By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Jan. 21, 2012.
Pete Wright’s wheelchair is built like a ‘mini-tank,’ and when he is strapped on to it and hurtling towards someone, he feels the pressure and the power just like any other athlete.
“We smash into each other and people fall over and then someone helps them get up,” Wright explained a common action in wheelchair rugby.
But that common action is also a stirring metaphor for the life of the players: You smash into something, you fall down, but then you pick yourself up with the help of others.
Every Wednesday, wheelchair athletes gather at the Brackendale Elementary School, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., to play this fast and ferocious game that demands balance and agility, in return for optimism and a sense of community. Pete Wright is one of the ten players.
Wright was born with Arthrogryposis, a musculoskeletal disorder that led him to play wheelchair sports. He has played and coached wheelchair basketball in his home town of Saskatoon.
But he got interested in wheelchair rugby when he moved to Whistler last year to work as a DJ. It’s here that he met Kristen McBride, who started the wheel-chair rugby program in Squamish in April 2011.
Now, along with McBride, he plays in Team BC, which secured the first place in wheelchair rugby competition in Montreal in December.
Wheelchair rugby, he said, gave him confidence and a sense of community.
“It showed me that no matter what happens in life, there is always an option,” he said.
Life winning over dejection is the essence of wheelchair rugby.
“Wheelchair rugby has been of great support in my life,” she said.
McBride was introduced to the sport in 2005, when she was recuperating from an accident in Pemberton that left her in wheelchair.
It was in rehab that she first tried wheelchair rugby as part of Have a Go Day, sponsored by BC Wheelchair Sports.
The non-profit BC Wheelchair Sports allows people with disabilities to try a host of wheelchair sports.
“I fell in love with it right away,” McBride said.
“It was great to be with people who knew exactly what you were going through,” she said.
McBride soon became part of the rugby league in Vancouver, where she was driven to games by her friend, Aileen Reed.
BC Wheelchair Sports Coach Adam Frost helped her start a wheelchair rugby program in Squamish in April last year.
She hopes it will expand, and is looking for new members to join.
To play wheelchair rugby, you have to be a quadriplegic, with a disability in both the upper and lower limbs. You should also be able to push your own chair.
Frost said wheelchair rugby can be an empowering game for those who are physically challenged.
Frost, who introduces the sport to people in rehab centres, said it makes people optimism he has seen people change in a few weeks.
“I have seen people change within weeks,” he said.