Overcoming disability through sport

By Ben Guild

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Scott MacDonald, chased by Lester Phelps, speeds away with the ball in the second division wheelchair rugby champs at the weekend.
Scott MacDonald, chased by Lester Phelps, speeds away with the ball in the second division wheelchair rugby champs at the weekend.

Wheelchair rugby is experiencing a purple patch in the Bay of Plenty, with dedicated players and administrators pushing to have the region added as another stop on the national tour.

BOPWR chairman Robert Wilson, who organised a tournament at ASB Arena on Saturday featuring teams from Auckland, Waikato as well as a composite selection, said the sport was experiencing a surge in interest in the Bay.

"We don't have any Wheel Blacks at the moment but I reckon we can get some ... it's about getting them up to that level and understanding what's expected. It's not just about playing for New Zealand - it's a whole lifestyle change," Wilson said.

The Bay teams, which contested a 22-16 thriller to start the day, were using the hit-out as a gauge for how they would go on the national tour.

While the sport is called wheelchair rugby, it is really more of a mash up of a variety of sports, with aspects of basketball, American Football, ice hockey and rugby incorporated.

A number of national representatives were spread throughout the teams, along with a sprinkling of able-bodied players.

"It's a sport that's largely directed at the disabled, but for tournaments and nationals we certainly don't discriminate against able bodied players,' said Wilson.

"We have to limit the ABs somewhat or the wheelies wouldn't have a place."

Parafed BOP chairman Neil Cudby said the sport had come a long way since he began playing almost 25 years ago.

"In the beginning we used to play in our day chairs," Cudby recalled.

"People starting modifying them - there was the whole Mad Max thing going on - but people were tipping over and it was really dangerous.

"Your chair is your legs so we couldn't go around knocking them about. We think our sport is more than sport. It's great rehab, and players get to learn from others who have gone through the same thing.

"Getting injured can knock some people around. Rob is now a chairman and organising tournaments and is doing a great job."

The Bay team trains weekly from 7-9pm at QE2.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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