This sport is not for the faint of heart

The crash had the strength to rattle my teeth.

Ilse Dekker from Ladysmith holds the ball during a game of wheelchair rugby at the Frank Jameson Community Centre

Ilse Dekker from Ladysmith holds the ball during a game of wheelchair rugby at the Frank Jameson Community Centre

The crash had the strength to rattle my teeth.

I was strapped in attempting to wheel, with limited arm power, my way around the Frank Jameson Community Centre’s gym.

I was risking life and limb with the local wheelchair rugby team.

The team, an informal group of quadriplegics from up and down the Island, just started meeting in Ladysmith to practice and play this high performance and very physical sport.

“This is a violent sport,” said Shaun McKenzie, the organizer. “It’s full contact.”

Wheelchair rugby, or how it was originally known, Murderball, is a mixed-gender sport developed in Canada in 1977.

It includes elements of wheelchair basketball, handball, ice hockey and rugby.

Five players showed up Monday night, plus a volunteer player and McKenzie’s 9-year-old step-daughter, Robyn New.

McKenzie said usually three or four regulars show up for the newly organized evenings.

“This is new, we’re just getting it going,” McKenzie said about the weekly meetings. “It’s tough to get a turnout.”

The high-performance athletes don’t shy away from being rough and tumble out there.

“Hitting people is my favourite,” Jordan Dycke said with a laugh.

Dycke travels from Shawnigan Lake to play with the team.

“I stay fit and I get to socialize with others,” he said, adding it’s good for everyday living. “It keeps me mobile.”

The game is played with eight on a team and everyone plays on a point system, ranked in order of function.

“Even though we’re all quads doesn’t mean we’re all at the same level of function,” Paul Winkler from Nanaimo explained.

The sport is only played by quadriplegics — but able-bodied people are welcomed and even encouraged to come out, like Ilse Dekker.

Dekker, of Ladysmith, used to come to just volunteer her time and help out until the team told her to wheel up and start playing.

“I though it was wicked,” she said.

McKenzie said the more people who join, the better practice it is for the regulars.

Wheelchair rugby has a profound effect on people, said McKenzie.

“It can be life changing for a lot of people,” he said. “It was for me. After my injury, I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself.”

Getting out to play helped him, he said.

He was able to travel, socialize and play a tough physical game.

McKenzie said playing the sport was a natural progression for him.

“I had always been involved with team sports and after my disability it’s just a continuation of that,” he said. “It’s so physical, as physical as you can get.”

The game is full of strategy, a lot more than people think, McKenzie, who’s been playing for seven years, said.

The game also takes a toll on the players. “A lot is required of athletes at the provincial level,” McKenzie said.

The players here are all on the provincial team.

Winkler said that’s one of the reasons he plays. “It’s good cardio and great for circulation.”

As I get out of one of the splay-wheeled chairs, the game continues without me — something I’m grateful for.

As the chairs whiz by, the players, without any protective equipment, gleefully smash into each other, reaching for the next goal.

“It’s one of the greatest wheelchair sports going,” McKenzie said. “It’s one of the biggest paralympic sports. The goal for us is a shot at the national team.”