An athlete’s diary

Isn't this the face of a menacing competitor...Ha!/ Arthur Ward

Isn’t this the face of a menacing competitor…Ha!/ Arthur Ward

Welcome to murderball

I celebrated World Cerebral Palsy Day by hitting another person with the same disability as me into a wall. This was not some violent confrontation on Wascana Parkway, but a wheelchair rugby practice. And yes, we’re still friends; and no, I didn’t leave any bruises – none more than usual.

Google wheelchair rugby and you will be greeted with an image of a Mad Max-ian contraption made to bend metal. Do the same with wheelchair basketball and, along with a suitably photo-shopped image of an American player flying through the air for a dunk (thank you, The Onion), you will see various images depicting kids and adults alike participating in a very inclusive sport.

But, back to the one where that’s full contact, because fouling – the thing I was best at in my ten years of basketball anyway – is, if not fun, then suspiciously rewarding. Trust me to choose a sport where hitting is legal, I’ve always said I was a linebacker in a previous life.

Practice begins with a wheeling drill, and another wheeling drill, and another. Remember those leg stretches you hated in high school gym class? No such thing here. Well, we just replace those with arm stretches because, without some form of propulsion, pushing a wheelchair is a difficult proposition.

Wheelchair rugby, sometimes known as murderball, is played by quadriplegics, those who have a disability that affects all four limbs. Originally only played by those with spinal cord injuries, the sport has grown to include those with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and amputees (among others). This makes for a whole bunch of disabled jokes in one place.

Part of what makes the sport so enjoyable is the community. Welcome to inclusion at its politically incorrect finest. The word cripple is likely to be heard. Gender-wise, women and men play on the same team. The best two players on our provincial team, and there is no argument, are women. Play like a girl? Yes please, I volunteer.

Next comes passing. One of the entertaining consequences of playing with quadriplegics is that none of us can catch all that well. Even those with higher levels of function in their hands, like me, are prone to dropping the ball. Imagine a wide receiver going up for a ball with their fists clenched. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Absolutely not. Now, remove that football player’s padding, put them in a wheelchair, replace turf with hardwood, and you have a wheelchair rugby player in front of you, well if they happen to have a disability that is.

After the prerequisite number of dropped balls and expletives – athletes, it has long been said are fluent in two languages: their primary one, and profanity – we move onto hitting. We set up in a circle, with one athlete in the middle, and that middle person begins hitting the outside players one after the other. The outer players pass a ball around and wait for the contact. The goal here is to hit the front caster and spin the opposing player all the way around. Sounds mean, but it’s effective.

Finally, it’s scrimmage time. For the uninitiated, this is a mock game. I’m not bragging, but my team totally won. We are just at the beginning of our season, though for the higher-level athletes there really are no days off, and the season runs until the end of May. Tournaments in Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Vancouver pepper the calendar before we head to Montreal for Nationals. We’ll be looking to improve on last year’s third place finish. Here’s hoping seven months of training equals gold.

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