DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


Recently, I interviewed James Gumbert of Austin, Texas, who is president of the U.S. Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) and head coach of the Texas Stampede, one of 34 U.S. quad rugby teams. This sport is spreading like wildfire. Gumbert described it in a telephone interview as “a combination of football, ice hockey, soccer and basketball all put into a big pot, stirred, and thrown out onto a 'scrabble' board.”

After viewing a fast-paced video clip of the sport at www.quadrugby.com., most people likely would add “demolition derby” to his description.

Said Gumbert, “The U.S. Quad Rugby Association was formed in the early '80s to govern and promote quad rugby. The sport is played four-on-four on a basketball court. Teams advance a ball (by passing, dribbling or moving their wheelchairs) in order to score a point by crossing over the end line. This is full contact. Visitors don't know how to react when they see these athletes running smack dab into one another. This sport smashes the stereotype of what can be done in a wheelchair.”

Remember, a quadriplegic is a person with some level of paralysis in all four limbs. All quad rugby players have some movement in their arms and use adapted manual wheelchairs.

As for Gumbert, he broke his neck near Waco, Texas, in a one-car accident 24 years ago Christmas night. He immediately had surgery and walked from the hospital January 1 without physical or neurological problems. Then, “three months later doctors found that the bone grafted into my neck (in December) hadn't healed,” he said. “They said I had a choice of wearing a neck brace for life or having another surgery. During that second surgery, I 'died' (for a short while) on the operating table and woke up paralyzed.” A nurse had failed to properly support his fragile neck during the administration of anesthesia.

Most people playing quad rugby usually fall into two categories, he said. Either they enjoy competition or are trying to 'get back into life.'

Gumbert said, “Now quad rugby is part of the Paralympic Games and these guys are treated as athletes. As for me, this sport has provided a sense of normalcy. It has allowed me to gain some control over my life.”

In 2004, New Zealand won the Paralympic Games quad rugby gold medal. Team USA won in 2000.

For more, see www.danieljvance.com or www.quadrugby.com