Disabled but Undeterred

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WAXHAW -- The sounds bursting from the gymnasium suggested a very intense game: conquering bellows, frustrated coach screams, thunderclaps of collisions.

It’s all the components of a typical game, except all the players inside were in wheelchairs.

Marvin Ridge High School is hosting the second annual Carolina Collision Quad Rugby Tournament this weekend.

Individuals with complete and incomplete quadriplegia play on 4 person teams during 8 minute quarters. The goal of the game is to carry a ball through two orange cones for points.

“It’s an outlet,” said Matt Berwick, 22, of Pittsburgh, whose spine was injured in a snowboarding accident 7 years ago and who was playing on the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers team. “A lot of us before we got hurt were in to sports so it’s a natural transition to wheelchair sports.”

Players ride in customized chairs in which the defense has a sort of guardrail on the front and the offense has a smoother front. Individuals are placed on either team based on how impaired they are, which runs on a scale of 0.5 to 3.5. Teams can not have a combined number that exceeds 8 points.

Teams from all over the East attended the tournament. Charlotte-area team Carolina Crash has hosted the tournament for the last two years at Marvin Ridge High School.

Waxhaw resident Sharon Robb said the sport has been invaluable for her son Sam, who is the youngest member of Carolina Crash at 16.

“It’s helped him tremendously with confidence,” she said. “Sammy hasn’t been able to participate in any of the scholastic teams. He missed that team camaraderie and competition.”

Carolina Crash coach Mike Duda said player transformations are common. He recalled players who used to rely on power wheelchairs before starting the sport. He also said the sport provides opportunities for players, such as traveling to other cities and states to participate in tournaments.

Many players said quad rugby helps them stay in shape. And for some like Bobby Stewart,30, of York, S.C., that’s critical to his health.

Stewart has muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens the body’s muscles.

“If I do nothing, my muscles will break down quicker,” he said. “I use what I got while I’ve got it because I know it will go away soon.”

And playing on a team, he said, sustains his emotional health, too.

“It helps me keep a purpose, stay positive,” he said.

Those interested in seeing the conclusion of the tournament can visit Marvin Ridge High School, 2825 Crane Road, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m today.

“The only thing cooler than playing quad rugby is watching quad rugby,” Stewart said.