World's best wheelchair rugby players face off in Richmond

Wheelchair rugby, originally called murderball, is a sport that pushes participants to the limit. Some of the world's best players are in Richmond, B.C., this weekend taking part in the Vancouver Invitational Wheelchair Rugby Tournament.

The full-contact sport, also called murderball, pushes players to the limit

Team B.C. player Cody Fournie takes a fall after a hit during a game against Team USA. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's not a sport for the faint of heart, which is why it was originally called murderball. Now known as wheelchair rugby, the full-contact sport tests those who roll onto the court.

Some of the best wheelchair rugby players in the world are in Richmond for the Vancouver Invitational Wheelchair Rugby Tournament this weekend.

Canada's national team is currently ranked first in the world, but it's the provincial teams that are facing off at the Richmond Oval, and they're up against a range of teams, some from cities like Seattle and Portland, while others represent entire countries. The USA team is in Richmond, so is Japan and Germany.

On Friday, B.C.'s provincial team faced off against USA and got decidedly beat, 62-28.

"We stopped counting after we scored the first point, so we won 1-0," said Trevor Hirschfield, 32, who also plays for the Canadian national team.

A Team USA player passes the volley ball from the goal line in a match-up against the B.C. provincial team on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Hirschfield suffered a spinal injury when he was involved in a car accident at 16. Before that, he was into lots of competitive sports.

"I played high-level hockey, and football, and baseball. I was highly involved in team sports and contact sports especially," he said.

He began playing wheelchair rugby in 2002, and was on the national team two years later.

"As soon as I got into the chair and hit somebody, it was a good feeling," said Hirschfield, who has been named B.C. athlete of the year with a disability by Sport B.C.

B.C.'s Trevor Hirschfield pushes to accelerate toward the play. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

One of the USA players that Hirschfield was up against was Chuck Aoki, 25, who has been playing since 2007.

"I was born with a really rare genetic condition," said Aoki, whose path to the sport is a little different than many of the players because he didn't suffer a single traumatic injury.

"I didn't feel anything below my elbows, anything below my knees. So when I was a little kid I actually walked normally, but since I didn't have any sensation, I would break my legs, tear my ligaments, all sorts of things that led to having to use a chair full time when I was about 10 years old."

Aoki is classed 3.0, which means he is higher functioning than many of the players.

The game uses a system where each team is allowed four players on the court at a time. Their total number can't exceed eight, and players are classed from 0.5 to 3.5.

B.C. player Jessica Kruger was the only woman in the game on Friday.

"I don't think that most people would necessarily look at me and think, 'That girl has that contact edge,' but it was totally something I fell in love with right away," she said of the game.

"When I was 15, I was working for a house painting company. I was two storeys up on a ladder and I fainted," she said. "I'm a quadriplegic now."

Vancouver's Jessica Kruger was the only woman on the court during the B.C - USA game on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's a pretty common misconception that quadriplegic means you're using a, like, sip-and-puff chair and can't move your arms. That's not the case," she said. "I'm a quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury so I have limited hand mobility and obviously no function in my lower limbs."

Even one of the sport's inventors was at the game — Duncan Campbell was on the sidelines keeping score. He's thrilled to see how the sport he helped create in 1976 has spread to dozens of countries around the world.

"It's fantastic. We never expected anything like this to happen."

Three B.C. players work to pin down a Team USA player at Friday's wheelchair rugby game in Richmond. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Campbell was the one who got Hirschfield interested in the sport, and now Hirschfield enthusiastically promotes it to others.

"Sport has been such a positive influence in my recovery. I guess my message to somebody who's recently injured, or looking for something, is get out and try. Try anything. Get your feet wet," he said. 

"Sport can be really positive in your life getting you through that traumatic experience."

About the Author

Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker


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