Wheelchair rugby changes lives on First Coast

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- 42 players compete in an intense game of rugby for the Brooks Bandits of Jacksonville, but there is a twist. In this Jacksonville tournament, not one foot touches the ground. That is because, the Brooks Rehabilitation Center is hosting its annual Summer Slam Quad Rugby for those confined to a wheelchair.

The athletes come from Jacksonville, and as far away as Saint Louis and even North Carolina. The athletes tell First Coast news they are in Jacksonville for friendship, but most of all, the competition.

Quad Rugby is a highly competitive, highly aggressive sport that provides physical, social and emotional well being for the participants, most who have lost the use of their legs.

Jacksonville-native, Chris Hull, 29, has been playing with the Brooks Rehabilitation team, the Brooks Bandits, for years.

"My life was pretty crappy until I found wheelchair rugby," said Hull.

Back in 2004, he was home on leave from the military visiting family, when his friend fell asleep at the wheel. The accident left him with spinal injuries and confined to a wheelchair while he was just a teenager. However, Hull used his disability to push forward. He trains everyday and now he's hoping to make it to the U.S. Paralympic team.

Alice Krauss is a Manager with the Adaptive Sports and Recreation center at Brooks Rehabilitation. She says the number of athletes has doubled since the event started.

"It's hard work," said Krauss. "It looks like bumper cars, but it's really more like a game of chess. It's very strategic and there are a lot of details to the game."

Krauss helps people like Don Bergman stay active with sports, like rugby. At 16-years-old he dove into a pool, broke his neck in two places and he's spent everyday in a wheel-chair since.

"I love the competition," said Bergman. "I love the hits. I love being able to feel free when I am in the chair."

As for Chris, he takes this competition seriously and he even tattooed his body with the Brooks Bandits logo. For him, the sport is a lesson about overcoming tragedy.

"You just have to find something to move on and turn your life around and get out of bed in the morning. So, once I found that it was really easy for me to turn my life around and turn it into something enjoyable," said Hull.

Brooks Rehabilitation Center holds 15 free athletic events each year. For more information: CLICK HERE.


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