Wonder Women

Wheelchair rugby. It’s probably not the first sport you think of if you know me. But I’ve grown to love it.

Wheelchair rugby is a contact sport for athletes with dysfunction in all four limbs. Most players are quadriplegics from spinal cord injuries, but there are also players with cerebral palsy, quadruple amputees, as well as other disabilities. Even though it’s a co-ed sport, it’s mostly guys out on the court.

All of us use chairs constructed to withstand direct hits. Many describe rugby chairs as looking like something out of a doomsday movie. Our hands are covered by gloves, sometimes with tape or Stickum® paste to provide a tacky surface to push the rims and to catch and pass the ball. A chest strap and belts around each leg at the knee holds us tightly in the chair, even on a hard impact.

Rugby is part hockey, part soccer and part football. With a volleyball. On a basketball court. Players are classified on their ability on a scale from 0.5 (lowest function) to 3.5 (highest function). Four players are allowed on the court per team, but the players' classifications must not exceed eight points per team. Women are given a 0.5 deduction in their class, so although I’m classed as a 1.0, I play as a 0.5. The game is fast-paced, as a point is scored each time a player carries the ball across the goal line – with at least two wheels crossing that line.

I first started playing rugby in 2008 when Jill Farmer started a team for the Louisville area. Players drove in from as far as four hours away for weekly practices. But my last season of rugby was in 2011. Several of our players needed a break from the game and the time commitment involved. I have missed the game and the comradery with the players.

When I received an invitation to play in a tournament, I hoped to get back into the game. Emily, whom I had gotten to know on and off the court, had formed an all-women’s rugby team called the Wonder Women. In December 2017, we gathered in Houston to play at the Metal and Muscle tournament with eleven other teams from across the U.S. Six women made up our team: Emily, Kathryn, Kopeka, Megan, Gretchen and myself.

Our first game was on Friday morning at 9 a.m. At that point I was simply trying to put together names with the faces of my teammates. We had been chatting via Facebook, but hadn’t met in person.

I’m not going to lie. In the five games we played, the Wonder Women didn’t kick the butts of any team. We didn’t even win a game. But we played as well as we could for six players who have never played together, not knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

No, we didn’t win. But we had fun (as long as you define “fun” as playing hard, hitting hard, and being battered, bruised and sore for days on end). We improved as a team during each game. I scored several goals: one was absolutely beautiful, if I do say so myself. (I’m not a ball handler, so scoring was a highlight for me. Unfortunately, there’s no photographic evidence.)

Even better, we had several girls and women come up to us and say, “I love seeing you girls out there!”

One young girl wanted a photo with us. “You are her heroes,” we were told.

It’s more than playing a game. We set a positive example of women’s involvement in athletics – and life.

After all, it’s about being Wonderful Women on and off the court.

Jenny

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