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Wheelchair Rugby

A first-timer ventures into a high-impact world


As people rolled around the gym at Fort Boise, warming up, one of the wheelchair (or quad) rugby players visiting from Salt Lake City told me that nothing really prepares you for how loud the game is.

"These wheelchairs are tanks," said Joel Brown. "They're covered in metal. And all we do is run into each other. It's like an intense bumper car game."

He wasn't kidding. Two of the Salt Lake players who were there to teach a workshop charged at each other like wild bulls. The clang of their collision echoed around the gymnasium like a bomb. They laughed and did it again as newbies cautiously tossed the ball back and forth, feeling out the custom chairs.

Though able to walk, I'd planned on giving the sport, lovingly called "murderball," a shot. But a week earlier, I tore the MCL in my right knee in a serious rock 'n' roll accident (jumping off the stage like a fool). More than just being injured, I was told that made me fit in because wheelchair rugby players are, by nature, intense.

The problem as that my knee was still so swollen, I couldn't bend it enough to get my feet inside the chair's foot cage. So as I buzzed around in the custom chair, I was also doing everything I could to ensure my feet didn't become collateral damage.

After stretching and doing some laps, the SLC players, one of whom is on the U.S. National Team, taught us basic ball-handling and passing techniques that made the best use of the chair. Zealously trying to save a fast bounce-pass, I barreled full-speed into the gym wall, stopping myself with my good foot. It was still a rough landing.

Fearful of the potentially toe-severing melee that was about to ensue, I bowed out when the players broke into teams for a scrimmage.

The SLC players had come to Boise to teach a workshop but also to donate several rugby chairs to the Fort Boise Community Center in hopes of seeding a Boise program--that way, they can later play or partner with a Boise team in larger wheelchair rugby efforts. And from the looks of things, they will likely be successful. From the sidelines, the Boise players seemed positively giddy. They crashed and slammed into one another like a human-powered demolition derby, tossing the ball back and forth and making fast breaks for the goal.

"It was awesome," one of the Boise players said as he came off the court. "The most terrifying experience of my life but awesome."

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