Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wheelchair rugby

(This article was originally published in The Athens NEWS)

By Mike Barajas
March 2, 2009

You could hear the sound of crunching metal as players collided during this weekend’s second annual Four-Play quadriplegic rugby tournament.

In the tournament sponsored by the Ohio University School of Physical Therapy, teams paid $75 to enter and compete against members of the Buckeye Blitz, a Columbus-based wheelchair rugby team.

Andrea Klusman, a third year physical therapy student and an organizer for the event, said all of the $2,700 the tournament raised would go to the Buckeye Blitz to help pay for new wheelchairs and the team’s travel expenses.

Wheelchair rugby, or quad rugby, is an official sport of the Paralympic games and received major national attention after the release of the popular Academy Award-nominated documentary “Murderball.” Jen Little, a third year physical therapy student and organizer for the tournament, said students in the school decided to start a wheelchair rugby tournament after seeing the film last year.

The Buckeye Blitz team captain Danny White said he’s been competing in wheelchair rugby for four years.
In the Buckeye Blitz’s second tournament at OU, White said the team always enjoys showing the sport to new people. “This is great, and the guys here raise a lot of money for us,” he said.

White has been confined to a wheelchair since a car crash years ago that severed his spine. Rugby, he said, has become a great way for him to get rid of pent up aggression and stay active.

“It’s a form of physical and mental therapy for me,” he said.

During the tournament, teams of two Buckeye Blitz players would often take on teams of four, trying to even up the game. Some of the teams with experience playing in last year’s tournament were able to hold their own against the Blitz, Klusman said. “Other than that, I’m pretty sure everyone else has gotten creamed,” she laughed.

Andy Kouse stood by, watching a match, waiting for his team’s run against the Blitz. Kouse, a graduate molecular cellular biology student, said it would be his first time playing in a wheelchair.

“Yea, I think this is the first time (in a wheelchair) for everybody on my team, it should be interesting,” he said.

Looking on as wheelchairs crashed and players scrambled for the ball, Kouse said, “I’m pretty excited to play after getting in here and seeing it.”

Kelly Siefker, a third year physical therapy major, stood at the sidelines cheering on one of the faculty teams after having just finished her battle with the Blitz. In her first time playing wheelchair rugby, Siefker said her arms were wearing out just 15 minutes into the match. “I can’t imagine how those guys have been doing this all day,” she said.

The Blitz, she said, was a tough match, but added; “I think they had a run for their money.”

Laughing, she admitted, “Yea, we still got schooled.”

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