National Wheelchair Rugby Hopefuls Entertain Fans at UVic

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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

May 8, 2015, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Canadian National Wheelchair Rugby team had the honour of playing the first ever game of any kind at the new Centre for Athletics, Recreation, and Special Abilities (CARSA) at The University of Victoria, as they took part in an intra-squad game Thursday night in front of nearly 200 fans as part of their training camp in advance of the 2015 Parapan Am Games in August.

Team Black’s Mike Whitehead (8) tries to chase down a loose ball with Team Red’s Zak Madell (33) in hot pursuit (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Wheelchair rugby will be making its debut at the Games and Thursday’s game marked the end of a ten-day training camp that will decide who will compete for Team Canada at those games.

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Team Red defender Travis Murao (12) leans back in an attempt to knock the ball away from Team Black’s David Willsie (14) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

For those unfamiliar with the sport, wheelchair rugby, played four per side, is a bit of a hybrid between rugby, basketball, European handball, hockey, football and well, bumper cars, and require a player to carry the ball (a specific Molten volleyball) over a “goal line” within a 40 second time frame (there is a shot clock). Like basketball, there are rules about staying in the key too long, getting the ball over half-court in a certain amount of time (12 seconds) and “travelling” (players must pass the ball or dribble within 10 seconds or it is a turnover).

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Team Red’s Travis Murao (12) looks to make a pass while getting a bump from Team Black’s Patrice Simard (15) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

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Team Red’s Zak Madell (33) receives a pass during an exhibition game against Team Black at the National Wheelchair Rugby Team training camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Also like basketball, players are allowed to “pick” their defenders and some of the collisions in this regard can be quite forceful, although there are penalties for knocking your opponent too hard or sending their chair flying on to their backs.

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Team Black’s Patrice Simard (15) speeds away from Team Red’s Trevor Hirschfield (10) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Tackles are made by colliding with another players’ chair to impede or stop their progress and players are allowed to reach in and try to take the ball out of the hands or laps of their opponents.

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Team Black’s David Wilsie (14) loses control of the ball as he tries to navigate through Team Red defenders Trevor Hirshfield (10) and Jason Crone (4), as well as Team Black’s Patrice Dagenais (3)

To be eligible to play the sport, individuals must have a disability that affects both the arms and the legs. They must also be physically capable of propelling a manual wheelchair with their arms. Athletes with neurological disabilities must have at least three limbs with limited functions; athletes with non-neurological disabilities must have limited function in all four limbs.

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Team Black’s Fabien Lavoie (11) goes to make a long pass under pressure from Team Red’s Jason Crone (4) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The majority of wheelchair rugby players have spinal cord injuries that have resulted in full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups who are represented include polio, cerebral palsy, some forms of muscular dystrophy, dysmelia, amputations, and other neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

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Team Black’s Fabian Lavoie (11) waits patiently for assistance to right himself after being flipped following a collision during the game (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Not that the score mattered too much on Thursday, but officially, Team Red defeated Team Black 58-43.  

On the strength of 2014 World Championship MVP Zak Madell, Canada Red leapt out to an early lead. Though Canada Black staged several rallies, the team struggled to contain Madell’s strength and speed. Madell scored over 50% of Canada Red’s points.

“We saw a world-class display of wheelchair rugby,” said head coach Kevin Orr. “Deciding who will represent Canada in wheelchair rugby’s debut at the Parapan Am Games will be a difficult task.”

After the game, Team Canada met with members of the Soldier On program, which empowers retired and serving members of the Canadian Forces with a visible or non-visible injury or illness to accept their new normal by adopting an active lifestyle through participation in physical, recreational or sporting activities. The soldiers and the athletes had an opportunity to share stories and compare notes.

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Team Red’s Zak Madell (33) looks to navigate around the tackle of Team Black’s Patrice Simard (15) during Thursday’ game.

Several of the athletes that competed Thursday have Vancouver Island connections. These included:

  • Miranda Biletski (Victoria, BC): Last year, Miranda became the first woman to compete in a gold medal wheelchair rugby game at a major international event at the 2014 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships. She recently moved to Victoria to go to school and train.
  • Byron Green (Vancouver, BC): Byron is originally from Comox. In addition to training full-time as a wheelchair rugby athlete, he also works as an engineer.
  • Trevor Hirschfield (Vancouver, BC): Trevor was raised in Parksville and considers it his hometown. He is the co-captain of Team Canada and is considered one of the best athletes of his position in the world.

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Team Black’s Ben Perkins (20) flips a pass under the arm of Team Red defender Zak Madell (33) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Wheelchair rugby will be making its Parapan Am debut on August 8th in Toronto as Canada takes on Brazil. The Canadians will also face Columbia, Argentina, Chile and the USA during the Games. The winner of the competition will automatically earn a spot at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

See more photos from this game on Christian J. Stewart’s web site at http://christianjstewart.zenfolio.com/p45906948 

Follow Christian J. Stewart on Twitter at @cjs_photography and Independent Sports News at @islandsports1

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