Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spinal Cord Injury Leads to Rugby

There I was, flat on my back in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center with a 35-pound weight screwed to my skull keeping the pressure off of my two shattered vertebrae and severed spinal cord. Now what?

"Have you ever heard of Murderball?" The sweet-voiced, redheaded nurse asked me through a slight grin.

I was injured Memorial Day Weekend of 2007 while diving into Lake Chelan. A mound of sand under the water broke my fall and my C6 and C7 vertebrae, severing my spinal cord and leaving me paralyzed from the chest down and without the use of my fingers.

Fast forward through three years of rehabilitation and adjustments to my new life on wheels and there I was, strapped into a mass of metal and rubber, about to embark on an experience that would change my life forever.

Murderball, also known by the more marketable name of quad rugby, is a fast-paced, full-contact sport that is played by quadriplegics and others with various disabilities, the only requirement being significant impairment to at least three limbs.

It is a highly competitive, sometimes violent sport that is played in specialized reinforced wheelchairs that are built to take a serious beating - which they most definitely do.

Four players from each team pass a volleyball back and forth on a basketball court and score by crossing an 8-meter goal line at the opponent's end of the court. The defensive team tries to prevent the scoring at all costs; by ramming and hooking and, if they hit them right, even toppling opposing players.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After 13 hours of surgery to stabilize my crushed spine, I spent four weeks in intensive care and eight more in inpatient trauma rehab. Three months after I rolled into the hospital on a stretcher, I rolled back out in a 600-pound power wheelchair.

The next two years were filled with rigorous physical therapy as I tried to regain enough strength in my arms to perform basic tasks needed for independence. At 22 years old, adjusting to my new life proved to be extremely difficult at times.

I never imagined that even the simplest tasks could be so challenging. The first time I put on my own pants was an exhausting cross between a wrestling match and a balancing act. Sometimes it was such a struggle that I debated the importance of wearing pants at all.

Once I decided pants were a necessity, I found out how hard it is to turn a doorknob when you can't move your fingers, or reach that ice tray in the back of the freezer. And I had never before noticed how many steps there are in the world.

More than a year after my hospital stay, I was finally able to trade in my power wheelchair for a much more manageable - and stylish - manual one. This gave me the freedom and self-confidence to resume some of my favorite activities, like sampling the beer at the local watering hole.

I got involved with quad rugby after a chance encounter with Jeremy Hannaford (who stole my handicap parking space at that very watering hole). He also suffered from a significant spinal cord injury and happened to be one of the captains of the Seattle Slam, Washington's only sanctioned quad rugby team.


1 comment:

  1. This is such an inspirational story. I can imagine the struggles you've been through. You are a living proof. Indeed, life isn't over until you quit. Well, I hope you have more fun in your Murderball matches and continue being a motivation for others.