Wheelchair Sports Camp, a band whose front-runner uses a wheelchair, finds an opportunity to initiate change from musical fame
Kalyn Heffernan has been musically, specifically hip-hop, inspired since the day she got Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous early on in life.
“I’ve been really into hip hop, like at a really early age,” Heffernan says. “And somehow I got my hands on records that I really probably shouldn’t have. I was listening to TLC and Salt-N-Pepa at like 5, 6, 7.”
Heffernan fronts the hip-hop band Wheelchair Sports Camp based out of Denver. But unlike other musical stars, she has a brittle-bone disability called osteogenesis imperfecta, and uses a wheelchair.
She can’t say how the band started, because it just kind of developed through time since she started writing her own music for talent shows when she was 12. Around that same time she had started to go to a wheelchair sports camp, which she chose to name the band in college because it was, “a unique name; somewhat sarcastic.”
Wheelchair Sports Camp takes electronic hip-hop and adds in touches of live jazz and funk instrumentals to create a unique and fluid sound.
“It’s been weird because musicians come in and out, but it’s actually been really cool because the sound has really evolved,” Heffernan says.
In the beginning, it was just Heffernan creating and mixing beats, which she rapped over. Now, after recording its first full-length album, No Big Deal, the band includes several producers and musicians to create a whole band you can see play live, and hear on the album.
Heffernan released an album earlier this year, but says it’s more of a “mix tape.” It differs from No Big Deal in that it’s all beats and rapping, no band. She did however work with Girl Grabbers to produce the beats Heffernan raps on top of for the mix tape, aptly called Wheel Grabbers.
Wheelchair Sports Camp was born out of musical passion and talent. But it’s grown into something even bigger than music, something Heffernan says she never even thought of.
In 2011, the band was invited to play at the Austin, Texas musical festival South by Southwest and they have continued to play it every year since.
“Oh, it’s awesome! I love doing South By Southwest,” Heffernan says. “Our first South by Southwest was … really like the turning point from being a local Denver band to being a national band.”
However, this past year at South by Southwest, Wheelchair Sports Camp was booked to play two showcases in an inaccessible venue. This isn’t a problem for Heffernan, who weighs just 53 pounds and can easily be carried on stage, it is however a problem for several fans with disabilities.
“People were pissed at me for the South By Southwest one. Some people from Adapt [of] Texas were pretty upset. But it’s cool, it sparks a conversation,” Heffernan says. “ … It puts me in a cool position … We’ve played on the street when the venue isn’t accessible so we can accommodate. It’s been interesting.”
Before touring, Heffernan never thought her musical fame would give her an opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities. She says she just focused on the music because “I’ve always had to be my own advocate, you know, because it’s hard out here for a gimp.” She’s even written a song called, “It’s Hard Out Here for A Gimp,” talking about the obstacles she faces because of her disability.
“I didn’t even really realize my reach within the disabled community until I started touring,” Heffernan says. “ … That’s been really, really cool. So, It’s definitely made me more aware of shit and pushed me more into that disability advocacy network, which I’m super excited about, honestly. I’m glad that I’m doing it and that I’m in that position to do it.”
For more information, to listen to music from Wheelchair Band Camp and to get information on the soon to be released album No Big Deal, visit wheelchairsportscamp.co.