Recently, I have been privileged to try out a couple of new adaptive sports, of all of the sports I tried, the most impactful was wheelchair rugby. To me, this sport has more to it than just the play itself. As well as the typical aspects, like conditioning, practicing, training, and the endless ups and downs of playing in a team, there is another altogether different side that I previously didn’t know of.
It was back in 2010 when I was introduced to the sport. Aged 23 at that time, I was an inpatient at Craig Hospital in Colorado having recently broken my neck. There was word going around about a sport where you get to play ‘bumper cars’ in wheelchairs while tossing around a volleyball. Whilst I was growing up I was a very active sportsperson and played a couple of sports. Some of the sports were team sports like soccer, but I was more attracted to independent ones like trail running, swimming and cycling. What I disliked most about team sports was the fact these sports demand a lot of commitment and the pressure to perform is also immense. Now, a lot had changed about myself and there was no room for going solo, so I decided to give a team sport a shot.
My Support Team
At first, when I started playing this sport, I didn’t fully comprehend that being part of a team had more to it than just the sport. The teammates who were quadriplegics had a lot to offer, especially knowledge on what my life would be like after injury. Their rich history, some having been injured for more than 30 years, meant they were experienced in a lot of fields, everything from family life, working full time (or not) to mastering scuba diving. Just by trying this sport I was exposed to a fountain of knowledge of the future that was awaiting me considering my new condition.
Obviously, your therapist will tell you a lot during rehab - but not everything. In my case I had a lot of questions. How do I use the bathroom? How can I travel independently again? What will my love life be like? What awkward situations am I likely to encounter and how do I approach them? These were just some of the many. Playing wheelchair rugby for some time, I found out that I could ask any of my team members these questions without feeling weird. We had one thing in common, we all were quadriplegics, this was our brotherhood, the one place we all put aside our differences.
Lessons about Life
Of the many experiences I have had in my life, there is one that stands out, about how I first started traveling with Bella, my service dog. Given that the use of my hands was limited, I wasn’t sure how to fill a bowlful of water and place the same bowl on the ground without causing a mess. I approached one of my teammates who also had a dog and he offered me a really simple solution, one where you use a cup to fill a bowl that is on the ground. As simple as it sounds, I had never thought of that but nowadays that is the norm.
For a team sport like wheelchair rugby the first day on the court comes with a lot of mixed feelings: you doubt whether you are actually good at this sport, you second guess your capability and insecurity sets in. If you will your way through, you will get to see how strong you can become both on and off the court. Before long, you will be going out and hanging out with teammates outside the court. You get to see how they carry themselves and how they live their day to day lives. These are the life’s lessons that ought to be experienced and not be taught.
So now the advice I always give a newly injured patient is very simple, to spend time with people with similar disabilities. No matter what the type of sport, whether it’s played as a team sport or individually, being around those that have lived through what you are going through is always a really big win.
In my case, wheelchair rugby not only taught me a new sport but also rejuvenated my confidence enabling me to live life independently. Looking back I have made lifelong friends, traveled to many cities, learned from other people’s experience, and this has made me the strongest I have ever been, both psychologically and physically.
About the Author
Kirk Williams is an adventure photographer. Being a C6-7 quadriplegic, with paralysis from the chest down, he has refused to let his disability define him. He has created a drone photography business called Birds Eye Optics, which has given him the opportunity to travel, be outside and follow his passion. From his experiences, he has decided to let people in on how he lives an interesting successful life as a quadriplegic, through blogs on his website and vlogs. From scuba diving in Mexico to traveling in a homemade camper van, Kirk hopes his life experiences and storytelling inspires others to live right and live beautifully.
Here at Sunrise Medical, our range of Quickie wheelchairs allows you to live without limits. Check out our range of manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and sports wheelchairs.
Wheelchair rugby not for you? Check out our other blog posts on wheelchair sport.