By Alison Wayner
Inspired by the Oscar-nominated documentary "Murderball," which features world-class quadriplegic rugby players as they prepare for the 2004 Summer Paralympics, Ohio University's School of Physical Therapy is sponsoring a wheelchair rugby tournament Saturday to benefit the state's only quadriplegic rugby team.
Dubbed "Four-Play," the event pits teams of four to six faculty, staff and student participants that will pay to play against the Ohio Buckeye Blitz -- a semi-professional team based in Columbus -- for 30-minute periods. Participants will play in actual "quad" rugby wheelchairs, supplied by the Blitz and custom-made especially for the high-contact sport.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Grover Center's first-floor gym, near the WellWorks entrance. Teams can register until noon Thursday by visiting the School of Physical Therapy front desk on the second floor of Grover Center.
All proceeds will go toward helping the Blitz pay for travel and equipment, such as rugby wheelchairs, which can cost upwards of $4,000 each. So far, the school has raised $2,500.
The sport first came on the scene in Canada in 1977 and made its way to the United States in 1979, according to the International Wheelchair Rugby Foundation Web site. Teams can consist of men and women who play on a regulation basketball court using a white ball, nearly identical to a volleyball. The object of the game is to carry the ball across the opposing team's goal line to score the highest number of points.
Tournament co-directors David Kohlrieser and Brooke Vaughan said participants should be ready to sweat on Saturday -- no matter how physically fit they may be.
"Most people aren't accustomed to using their upper bodies as a means of mobility," Vaughan said. "Expect to be winded after five minutes and sore the next day."
In addition to benefitting the Blitz, Kohlrieser and Vaughan hope the event will raise awareness and appreciation of wheelchair sports and the competitiveness with which they are played.
"You don't see very many individuals around campus in wheelchairs," Kohlrieser noted. "Hopefully people see that being in a wheelchair isn't always about limitations."
"I would really like to see this be an opportunity for the university and Athens communities to learn more about competitive wheelchair sports and the physical therapy profession," Vaughan added.
The event also will offer some professional benefits for future physical therapists. "Communication is a huge part of being a physical therapist," Kohlrieser noted. "Participating in things like wheelchair rugby helps us to be more comfortable talking to patients with quadriplegia."
While viewing "Murderball" in class was the main catalyst for the event, Kohlrieser said the experience of working with a quadriplegia patient and actually participating in a wheelchair rugby tournament triggered his classmates to bring the sport to Athens.
"Some of us from the class went to play in a Buckeye Blitz tournament, and we had a blast," Kohlrieser said. "It wasn't your typical wheelchair game, it was competitive and intense -- needless to say, we didn't win."