Wheelchair rugby Team Canada pals 'Trev and Trav' to defend top ranking

For Trevor Hirschfield and Travis Murao, being on Canada's number one ranked wheelchair rugby team is more than a game — the sport has been instrumental in getting them back on track after life-changing injuries.

Wheelchair rugby a source of community, mentorship for friends who are heading to Rio Paralympics

Trevor Hirschfield, left, and Travis Murao forged their friendship through wheelchair rugby — and they now play for number-one ranked Team Canada. (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

In the competitive world of wheelchair rugby, Travis Murao is a big personality.

"I think generally speaking I lead the league in being punched in the face," he tells The Early Edition's Samantha Garvey with a grin. "I feel like it's the other team's way of letting me know that they like me and they respect me."

Murao's teammate Trevor Hirschfield jokes, "[But] the good thing about our sport is punches in the face are never going to hurt, because no one can make a fist."

The Canadian national wheelchair rugby team is currently ranked number one in the world, and they'll be defending that title this weekend in their last tournament before this summer's Paralympic Games in Rio.

But for Murao and Hirschfield, it's more than a game — wheelchair rugby has been instrumental in getting them back on track after life-changing injuries.

Community and mentorship

When he was 17, Murao broke his neck snowboarding. He credits his recreational therapist Duncan Campbell, the inventor of wheelchair rugby, for getting him involved in the sport and making the difference in his recovery.

"Being in shape, being fit [and] being healthy helps so much, especially when you're in a wheelchair and you have to deal with some of the issues we face," Murao said.

Parksfield, B.C.-born Hirschfield and Murao, from Steveston, first met when Hirschfield took over Murao's bed at rehab. "Trev and Trav" became fast friends, both on the court and off.

Murao said the team's veterans act as mentors for younger players not just in the game, but in life as well when it comes to coping in a wheelchair  — everything from traveling and driving to getting jobs and meeting girls.

"You meet a bunch of people who've gone through the same thing, and you can kind of pick each other's brain and learn how to get on with your life," said Hirschfield, who met his wife through the sport — she worked at a hotel the team stayed at for a training camp.

Sights set on Rio

For the first time in 14 years, the Canadian national wheelchair rugby team is ranked number one in the world. Murao knows that means the other teams will be gunning for that top spot in this weekend's Canada Cup invitational at the Richmond Oval, ahead of the trip to Brazil for the 2016 Paralympic Games.

"It's good to be back on top, but with that, there's also a target on our back," Murao said.

Hirschfield is looking forward to some fierce competition.

"People are going to come out of here trying to prove a point, that they can hang with us," he said. "There's going to be some good games."

With files from Samantha Garvey and CBC's The Early Edition.