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The Life and Times of a Rookie Quad Rugby Player: Denver’s Drew Hoffman

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The Life and Times of a Rookie Quad Rugby Player: Denver’s Drew Hoffman
By Matt Gypin
 
            Seven months after breaking his neck in a diving accident, Drew Hoffman sat in a rugby chair for the first time last June. Seven months later, he traveled to Tampa, Fla., to compete in his first tournament with the Denver Harlequins.
            “Basically, I got out of the hospital in April, and in June, I started going to practice in the summer like every other week,” said Hoffman, 23, of Golden, Colo. “And I just loved it. I never missed a practice after that and I’ve just kept coming back.
            “When I started playing, I had nothing. Ryan (Walters) gave me his chair, someone gave me a seat cushion, someone else gave me a hip strap. Everyone on our team just kind of pitched in so I could play, and that was really big. I mean I couldn’t have done it without the Denver team.”
            The Harlequins’ longtime player/coach, Jason Regier, said during a recent tournament that Hoffman has improved as much in his first year as any player he’s seen.
            “He’s come a long way this year,” Regier said. “He’s going to be great for us.”
Hoffman grew up in Boston but moved to Colorado, where he attended Regis High School, graduating in 2008. After high school, he enrolled in Gonzaga University and moved to Spokane, Wash. A huge basketball fan, Hoffman traveled to Seattle in December of his senior year to see his beloved Bulldogs compete in a tournament. He would not return to Spokane again until graduation, just one semester away.
On Dec. 17, 2011, Hoffman broke his neck diving into a Seattle hotel swimming pool.
 “We were drinking, and just messing around in the pool. I dove in headfirst and broke my C6,” Hoffman said. “I spent like two months up there in Seattle in the ICU and the rehab center there, and then I flew down to Craig (Hospital). I was from Golden, so we knew about Craig, and I was there for two months.”
While he was still at Craig Hospital, Hoffman continued his classes over the phone and completed his degree in biology with environmental concentration. In May 2012, Hoffman returned to Spokane and “walked” with his classmates at Gonzaga’s commencement.
“At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but looking back on it, that was pretty tough to do,” said Hoffman of returning to Spokane in a wheelchair and attending the ceremony. “It was good because I got to see all my friends that I hadn’t seen since the accident. It was good being there for my graduation.”
One month later, Hoffman started practicing with the Harlequins and fell in love with quad rugby. He said the sport provides a different aspect of being in a wheelchair, and the spirit of competition he missed from playing basketball.
“It was like going from sitting in the hospital all day to competition and trash talk and having some fun,” he said. “That was huge to be able to go out there and compete in a sport again. It felt really good.
“And it’s a great workout: if I hadn’t played rugby, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am physically right now.”
Hoffman has competed in two tournaments this season with the Harlequins, although he has yet to win a game and is not postseason eligible this year. Still, he said he has had a blast this season.
“I’ve gotten tons of playing time, and it was really sweet being able to travel to Tampa, and just seeing the level of competition there, and all those really good players in one place. It was fun,” Hoffman said. “In practice, you don’t really get a feel for the flow of the game. So when you see top DI and DII teams playing, you really get a sense of the flow and where you should be. When you see that caliber of playing, it was super fun to watch and play along.”
            Hoffman has been working out three times a week at the SCI Recovery Project in Denver, and said it’s helped him become stronger and faster, and get more power out of his push. He said he still has a lot to learn about the strategy of the game.
            “There’s the physical side of the sport that you can work on by pushing and getting stronger and faster, and there’s also the mental side of the sport, where you have to just play and be there every week in order to learn,” Hoffman said. “So that’s probably one of the things I am working on, just knowing where I should be on certain plays.”
            Off the court, Hoffman said he loves to watch college basketball games on television, and attend pro sporting events in Denver. He said he is still in the process of regaining his independence, and one of his goals is to go to law school.
            “I would like to get back to living on my own and having my own life and identity, and I think with that comes work,” Hoffman said. “Before I got hurt, I was going to go to law school for environmental law. So that’s kind of still one of my goals, to get back to school.
“This injury has taught me that you can’t look that far into the future, because you don’t know what the hell is going to happen.”
One thing we know: Drew Hoffman will be an even better rugby player next season.
April 1, 2013 — 3:03am