Disability 101: Wheelchair rugby
November 24, 2008
I’ve recently fallen in love with another adaptive sport: wheelchair rugby.
It’s a fast-paced, full contact, aggressive sport well suited to both elite and recreational play.
Wheelchair rugby, also known as “murderball,” is played on a basketball court using a sports wheelchair. This chair sits lower to the ground and has wheels angled at a negative camber, creating greater stability.
A rugby chair incorporates a front bumper surrounding a recessed footrest. The bumper provides protection for the toes and is used to strike opponents’ chairs.
This greater stability and toe protection is important in wheelchair rugby because the game is sort of a cross between indoor rugby and bumper cars. And that’s why it’s so much fun!
Players are not allowed to touch each other; however, ramming your chair into another player’s chair is the desired method of blocking for both defensive and offensive moves.
Yes, wheelchair rugby is basically a group of people in wheelchairs crashing into each other in an effort to get the ball over the goal. So now you are going to have to give up the stereotype that people with disabilities are all fragile. Not so here.
Players can move the ball by carrying it in their laps or by passing it. However, players can hold the ball for only 10 seconds, and then they must either pass or dribble.
It is quite permissible to steal the ball from another player’s lap, as long as you don’t touch that player. It is also quite permissible to ram your chair into another player’s chair in an effort to disrupt a pass.
Players get hurt on occasion, due to crashes and tipping over, but generally it’s just bumps and bruises, and most of us will gladly risk it because we enjoy the game so much.
The game is so much fun that in the recreational group I’ve played, some able-bodied folks have grabbed a wheelchair and joined us. Usually you can tell the difference between able-bodied players and players with disabilities because the able-bodied players are the ones rubbing their arms complaining of soreness. It’s nothing that spending a little more time in a wheelchair won’t cure.
When you really start to get involved with wheelchair rugby, you discover just how much is possible. Many of us who play have difficulty using our hands. I’ve watched competitors with significant hand impairment throw and catch some amazing passes, all while other players were trying to ram into them.
I used to worry about what will happen if I lose additional hand function. Now that I’ve spent time with some of these competitors, I no longer worry.
Denver is fortunate to have an elite, competitive wheelchair rugby team, the Denver Harlequins. Two of Harlequin players, Jason Regier and Chance Sumner, competed on the gold-medal winning U.S. National Team at the Beijing Paralympics.
Competitive teams are bound by requirements that all players have both upper and lower extremity impairment. Even so, these competitive teams play at a level of aggression that is unmatched in recreational play.
What can the average able-bodied person learn about people with disabilities from watching wheelchair rugby?
We’re not all fragile. Some of us enjoy rough and tumble pastimes. We have the right to choose to do something that may injure us simply because it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Many of us consider having fun to be a major priority in our lives.
Look for a local adaptive recreation program in your community, call for details, and check it out. You might soon be grabbing for a wheelchair to join in.