Take a look into the growth of what started as a grassroots effort by two people working from home in 1975 to become today's 40th anniversary issue of SPORTS 'N SPOKES.
It all started on a dining room table and a living room floor. Nancy Crase stood with single-page paste-up boards completely covering the ground beneath her as she asked herself, “I wonder if Time magazine does it this way?”
She was putting together the first issue of SPORTS ’N SPOKES (S’NS) for May 1975. The idea for the magazine came to Cliff, Nancy’s late husband, back in 1973. At the time, Cliff, a quadriplegic, served as the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Sports Coordinator and wrote a sports column, Cliff’s Corner, in PN magazine. Each month he had enough copy to fill a whole magazine, until finally he realized that’s exactly what he should do.
“We always used to say Stef Florescu was the reason why we started SPORTS ’N SPOKES because Stef (a PVA member from Michigan) … started a sports magazine, if you want to call it that, and what he did is he just Xeroxed stories and then stapled them together and mailed them to people,” Nancy says. “ … Then Cliff came up with the idea of starting the magazine.”
Just Six Issues
The married duo had enough experience between the two of them to have just their names on the masthead for the first eight years. Cliff had already been writing about and covering wheelchair sports for years and Nancy’s family owned a printing business, so she knew about that process and pulled the whole thing together into one final product. The first issue was a thin, two-color, 16-page magazine with one half-page ad.
“We had some people look at the first issue, and of course they were in advertising, and say, ‘Oh if this lasts a year it will be lucky because you have no advertising,’” Nancy says.
Well it did last a year, 40 of them in fact. But it wasn’t all luck. Each page is made from a lot of hard work. In the early days of the magazine before computers and publishing software were used, the page designs were laid out on paste-up boards. Many of the lines and other design elements were added by hand and the pictures were added in last. A photo of the paste-up board was taken at the printer and the two-tone photos were spliced into the negatives before printing. Nancy and Cliff never got to see what the final page would look like until it was printed.
All that work could only happen after the editorial work was done. The S’NS duo would travel the country to attend wheelchair sporting events, report, write stories and take photos to fill the magazine pages.
To get people interested in the magazine, Nancy hand-typed 5,000 labels to stick on subscription cards and send to people in Cliff’s deep web of contacts and athletes. From those 5,000 cards sent, 704 people subscribed. Each subscription cost $4 and promised the reader six issues over the course of a year. Six issues, reported, researched, written, designed, labeled and mailed by two people.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, do I want to accept this person’s $4 subscription and I have to promise to have six issues of this magazine?’” Nancy says. “And I kept thinking, ‘OK, get a grip here. All you have to do is six issues. That’s it. If this thing totally bombs all you have to do is six issues.’ So obviously it didn’t bomb.”
It didn’t bomb for several reasons, but Nancy admits some of it was because of luck.
“SPORTS ’N SPOKES was extremely pivotal because it was at the right time in the right place for the expansion of wheelchair sports and the sports wheelchair,” she says.
Exposure for Expansion
When the magazine started, wheelchair sports were by no means new to the world. However, there were a limited amount of sports available for wheelchair athletes and they were all competitive, not recreational. Nancy says when she and Cliff started the magazine the only sports established to cover were track and field, men’s basketball, swimming and archery and it was “pretty modest.”
“We saw the start of women’s basketball and women[‘s] athletics as a whole, as well as expanded competitive avenues for quadriplegics,” she says. “ … [People] just didn’t think that quads could do anything. We didn’t have murderball (quad rugby), power soccer, there was none of that. So, mountain climbing, hang gliding, horseback riding — anything that anybody thought up, they just did it, and we covered it.”
Covering these new sports and recreational activities gave them exposure so interested wheelers could learn how to play and get involved. It helped wheelchair sports and recreation grow during a time the wheelchair athletic movement was really booming.
“I was very enthusiastic about all of this because I had a husband in a wheelchair and this was very important,” Nancy says. “It just was the right time at the right place. That’s all. It was just a really apropos thing to do. That’s where … SPORTS ’N SPOKES is so beneficial and is such an important asset.”
Nancy can recall seeing the start or growth of many competitive sports, including the switch from sled skiing to monoskiing, swimming, tennis, softball, football, triathlons and more. S’NS would have serial articles on these new sports to help readers learn how to play and get involved. Nancy specifically remembers working on one about tennis with Brad Parks in which he showed readers how to hold a tennis racket, swing and move about the court.
Over the years, the magazine has covered the growth of recreational sports. The biggest standout in Nancy’s mind is marathon racing, starting with Bob Hall’s first entry in the 1975 Boston Marathon. It was a race he wasn’t allowed to participate in, but did anyway and ended up going to court over it. That single action started a whole movement, and now there’s a wheelchair division in almost every major marathon.
“We covered the whole controversy of marathons,” Nancy says. “Marathoning was very popular with wheelchair athletes because of the evolution of the track chair … [athletes] just took off with it because there was no demand that the chair be one-size-fits-all like the NWAA (National Wheelchair Athletic Association) had demanded. Marathoning was on its own … so they could do whatever they wanted and they could read it all in SPORTS ’N SPOKES, who was doing what. It was very exciting.”
See the Possibilities
All this growth was exciting, especially during a time in which society didn’t expect people in wheelchairs to do much. Nancy recalls that around the time Cliff was injured (1959) average life expectancy was only about 13 years for a quadriplegic.
“To be on a wheelchair athletic team where you got to talk to people, not nurses, not doctors, but more quads … you could get a whole lot of information on things other than just sports,” Nancy says. “Then once we started the magazine I can remember when we would go to various games or even junior games and we’d have parents come up and say, ‘You have no idea what this has done for our child to see a magazine like this, to see the possibilities.’ … [they] had no idea what lie ahead for them. But once they could see a magazine, a sports magazine, not a rehab magazine, that made the difference for many of them. They suddenly thought, ‘Oh I can take this and run with it.’”
Once those first, scary six issues were out the door and Nancy and Cliff saw the impact their magazine was creating on the world of wheelchair sports, they persisted. The magazine grew in thickness, exploded into color, moved to being created on computers and was purchased by PVA, which expanded that two-person masthead to a heftier 12 names. Over the last 40 years all that hard work and nervous days evolved into this magazine that once had 704 subscribers, to now more than 17,100 readers per issue.
“I can remember when we went to a sport meet when PVA owned us and they were sponsoring an event … and you can see a banner with SPORTS ’N SPOKES on it and I’m thinking, ‘Man, we’ve come a long way,’” Nancy says. “From the point where I’m sorting the pages on the living room floor to now there’s a banner at a sports site — that was impressive.”