Murderball is the nickname for Paralympic rugby, the bone-jarring sport played by quadriplegics in reinforced wheelchairs. The wheelchairs are reinforced so they look like battering rams. Actually that’s part of the strategy, guys crashing to each other at considerable speed in order to flip them over.
It’s a demolition derby, played by guys who have all suffered serious injuries or illness in their young lives which left them quadriplegic. Most of these young men broke their necks in the prime of their lives, injuring their spinal cords. One young man suffered severe blood poisoning in childhood that necessitated the amputation of both arms and legs.
But this is not a film about disability, it’s an inspiring story of love, parental support, community action, and a personal commitment by every man to become a full participant in his own life’s journey. These are athletes like all others, who are interested in winning an Olympic Gold medal. They talked about their sex lives (which turned out to be considerable) frustrations, girlfriends, acknowledged their limitations but did not seek pity. Each man acknowledged going through a “dark time” when they first became quadriplegic.
I have worked with lots of seriously disabled patients, and it always interested me how some people faced it and moved beyond their limitations, while others languished and despaired. The movie opened last weekend and featured a Question and Answer session with one of the movies young stars. Scott Hogsett, is a 32-year-old Phoenix resident, a graduate of ASU, who started playing Murderball less than a year after the accident that left him quadriplegic in 1992.
I asked him how he got through his “dark time” and Scott replied, he had always been a fighter. Then he added, that he learned to do more in the wheelchair than he ever did when he was able-bodied. Scott said he would never have played in the Olympic Games if he had not been quadriplegic. “I just wasn’t that good”, he said. He trains four hours a day and over the last four years has only taken off three months. When not competing he and his teammates, visit recently injured quads in rehab facilities, and tell them about the richness of their lives after quadriplegia.
Scott concluded with this thought, that in the beginning of the movie we may have been distracted by the wheelchairs, but he hoped that by the end we didn’t see them at all. He wanted us to leave the theater with this prospective, that he and his friends were something other than disabled, maybe even cool. My eyes welled, as he waved goodbye, reminded again that it’s not the events in our lives that do us in, but the choices we make about how we come to them.
As he rolled up the aisle, and the entire audience stood and applauded.