Crash course: a beginner’s guide to wheelchair rugby
Miles Bennett – Aviva Rugby Fan: You don’t strictly have to be wheelchair bound to play do you?
Simon Starr – regional development officer for GBWR east and West Midlands: No, the sport came about by people with spinal injury breaks who wanted a contact sport and didn’t get much court time playing wheelchair basketball so they invited Murderball over in Canada in 1977 and then it’s grown into wheelchair rugby, become a Paralympic sport and the new version enable anybody with a physical disability to play.
Simon Starr: A great way to get fit, a great way to have fun, make a load of new friends, it’s a very very social sport.
Simon Starr: It’s a small sport; if you’re good enough you can get to the Paralympics and whatever your disability there’s an avenue for you to play.
Miles Bennett – Aviva Rugby Fan: How did you both first get involved in wheelchair rugby?
Alan Stevenson – Dorset Destroyers: Er, well here 3 years ago when they started, they started off with taster sessions so they ran that for about 3 months and I saw an advert for it at the roundabout when I was coming home from my friends and to be honest with you, originally I didn’t think I would be eligible to play because wheelchair rugby really was for people who were more disabled than me, but a friend of mine said no you can go, so I came along and gave it a go and I think I was at the last taster session actually, anyway that was good and so I joined up straight away and I have been here ever since.
Miles Bennett – Aviva Rugby Fan: and yourself?
Dave Wilkinson – Dorset Destroyers: I don’t mind name dropping, a guy called Luke White when I was at Henley court, a fantastic guy he was heavily involved in GBWR, did a few sessions with him and when I came out of the army because I said I enjoyed doing the sport, he puit me in contact with Nick and Sue Coombs and the rest is history so to speak so Luke, thank you!
Miles Bennett – Aviva Rugby Fan: What do you enjoy most about playing wheelchair rugby?
Dave Wilkinson – Dorset Destroyers: Being competitive, um the background I come from you play to win and especially this club, and I’ve said it to numerous people, I know I keep mentioning the military thing but it’s kind of like a family sort of club. Everyone gets on with everyone, we just want to better ourselves and there are no egos in the club either. I know we are a grassroots club so to speak but everyone wants to improve and regardless of what sort of injury you’ve got or what level you’re at, everyone learns off everyone and whether that’s if we’re watching when people are playing depending on how many people are on or how many people turn up to a session, it’s just a sport I really enjoy playing.
Miles Bennett – Aviva Rugby Fan: What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before and is maybe thinking about taking up wheelchair rugby?
Dave Wilkinson – Dorset Destroyers: Just give it a go, I was going to say give it a bash but that’s the old, no pun intended there but literally give it a go, I think it’s like anything it’s confidence. I think from a personal opinion the only person stopping you from playing the sport is yourself. Without saying too much sometimes it can be a bit of a mental barrier, if you’re saying oh I don’t know if I’ll be able to play that, the only way you’re going to be able to find out is if you get in the chair and play it. So just give it a go really, I think that’s what I’m trying to say.
Alan Stevenson – Dorset Destroyers: Yeah, that’s right. If you play wheelchair rugby you can more or less forget your disability and all of the constraints that normally apply don’t really apply here, we’re all just people playing a game, yeah so it’s great camaraderie.
Dave Wilkinson – Dorset Destroyers: Banter is high as well. Rip the mick out of each other
Alan Stevenson – Dorset Destroyers: Yeah that’s all part and parcel of it isn’t it.
Dave Wilkinson – Dorset Destroyers: Yeah, exactly, so it’s good!
Wheelchair rugby was one of the success stories of the London Paralympics, and since then it has gone from strength to strength. So I thought it was high time I went and had a look at what this increasingly popular sport is really all about.
It’s one of the Paralympics’ most thrilling events - full of drama, captivating action and its fair share of high-impact collisions. Wheelchair rugby is sport at its box office best. And living and breathing rugby as I do, I was absolutely glued to the TV watching every game during the Rio de Janeiro games.
It also struck a nerve closer to home as my brother was in and out of a wheelchair throughout his childhood, so the respect I have for the men and women engaging in any wheelchair-based discipline is huge.
Introducing the Dorset Destroyers: pride of the south west
I reached out to the Dorset Destroyers Wheelchair Rugby Club and got in touch with its chairman and founder Nick, along with his wife Sue, who invited me down to watch them take part in a fierce triple-header against Northampton Saints and Bristol Bears.
As action got underway at the Rossmore Leisure Centre, the Destroyers’ home ground, I was hit by the palpable sense of competition. The game was much faster than I had anticipated and, like the more traditional form of rugby, I found skill and collisions in abundance.
I was also struck by the game’s incredible capacity to put all of its players on a level playing field, irrespective of age, disability or gender. This really adds to the spectacle and it’s difficult to think of too many other sports that can boast a similar level of inclusivity.
Down to the action
The afternoon’s proceedings saw the three teams participate in a total of six games, displaying wheelchair rugby in all its glory as five players on either side battled it out before trying to score between the posts.
Each contest saw the reinforced wheelchairs tested to their absolute limits as players from every side engaged in some ferocious collisions.
Even the smallest players were flying into duels, taking huge hits and coming out unscathed – fear, it seems, doesn’t even register to those that play wheelchair rugby.
The Dorset Destroyers were the more experienced side and utilised superior teamwork to produce a wheelchair rugby masterclass. They won all of their matches and did so with class and style, before taking time to share tips and knowledge with their opposition.
The grassroots revolution
Having been founded by Nick back in March 2014, the Destroyers are now closing in on their four year anniversary. Nick originally wanted to get involved in a more competitive sport for people in wheelchairs, so contacted Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) and soon got the greenlight so start a club.
After starting some taster sessions alongside GBWR, Nick was told to expect no more than a handful of players. But after just four sessions, he already had enough players for two whole teams and, three years on, the side boasts 20 players and until recently had a waiting list of players wanting to join.
It’s a real success story. And as wheelchair rugby continues to go from strength to strength, there’s never been a better time to get involved.
Learn more about wheelchair rugby and find your nearest club via GBWR, here.