Wheelchair rugby: hope and strength for participants

February 21, 2013 2:51:57 PM PST
As far as sports go, rugby is as nasty as they come. It's a sport that takes guts, strength and all four limbs. Or so you would think.

Check out Philadelphia's wheelchair rugby team. The sport, also known as Murder Ball for its aggressive, full-contact nature, sure is physical. This, despite the fact its athletes all face physical challenges.

"The 'chairs take more of the abuse than we do," said Jim Thompson. "It's loud, it's fast, it's hard."

And people who play rugby are known to be kind of crazy, right?

"Definitely," said Lauren DeBruicker. "And you figure most guys out here were hurt in one kind of accident or another, so they've already cheated death once. So they have no problem sort of hanging it all out again."

The athletes each has his or her own story: One injured in a car accident, another diving into a swimming pool, still another wrestling with his brother

What they have in common is no use of their legs, limited use of their upper body, and a love for this game and what it has done for their lives.

"Programs like this have the ability to change attitudes and show people what they can do as opposed to what they can't," said Magee Rehabilitation Wheelchair Sports Coordinator Keith Newerla.

"It's basically been my life," said Jim Thompson. "It's kept me active, it's kept me in good physical shape so I can push my everyday wheelchair. It's given me things to work toward."

And if you believe in fate, well, there's even something magical about it.

Eric Anderson met his wife playing wheelchair rugby. She was one of the volunteer physical therapists. The result? 11-week-old Miley Love.

"I think my life is better. It's weird to say. But I mean, I have a daughter," said Anderson.

The cost for the program is subsidized by Magee Rehabilitation's Wheelchair Sports Program. Most of the funds are raised by the annual Night of Champions dinner.

And this sport is expensive. The wheelchairs cost thousands of dollars, and the travel thousands more.

For more information:

The wheelchair rugby program

The Night of Champions fundraiser