Why I’ll be cheering the wheelchair rugby squads at the Paralympics

Debra plays wheelchair rugby aka murderball

MS left me feeling sad and frustrated until my physio introduced me to wheelchair rugby.

The first sign of MS was when my face went numb. It happened back in 2010, on my way home from university. After a whirlwind of doctors, hospitals, MRI's and intense emotions, I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS.

My health deteriorated quickly and nothing seemed to help. I was sick a lot. I was tired a lot. I was sad a lot. My symptoms meant I couldn't finish my third year at uni, which made me the saddest.

Getting fit and strong

I wanted to get strong again. My physio told me about wheelchair rugby but I was dubious. I didn't use a wheelchair at that time. Look up ‘murderball’ online, she said. I did. And wow! There was a competition coming up nearby and I went to spectate. Teams from all over the UK were competing. Their physicality astounded me.

I got in touch with my home team, The Caledonian Crushers. I've played many sports in my life but I have never experienced a harder workout. It's a technical game. Almost as if Robot Wars was chess, with a ball. Except the robots are manually pushed, highly engineered chunks of metal wheelchair.

It's also fast! A team of four only has 40 seconds to score. Each player has an impairment on at least three of their limbs. You have to be fit to push a big metal wheelchair as fast as you can into another player. Fit and strong. Two words that hadn't described me for a while.  

My team have got my back

I started training every Tuesday at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. The players come from all over Scotland. Dedicated coaches and volunteers also travel far and often straight from work, for which we’re very grateful.

So much has changed since my face went numb. I still face issues and now use a wheelchair, but I'm taking a disease modifying therapy and still playing rugby. Our team have travelled across the UK to compete in tournaments. We even went on a TV quiz show!

I'm eating well, exercising daily and training weekly with the Crushers. My team showed me I could still play sport. A high octane, full contact, competitive team sport!

I want to get stronger. For myself, but also so I can play better. So I can beat the opposition. So my coach can rely on my fitness. So my team mates know I'll make that block. I've got their back, they've got mine: Big-man Davie, Chris arms-like-thighs, Raymundo, Gemma B-baller, Ninja Donald, Dedicated Ciaron, Jo the Machine, Jase, T-Dogg, everyone and all the staff.

I love my team. ‘My team’. I feel part of something again.

Bring it on

Although MS brings challenges and I felt like I had lost everything that made me ‘me’, I now get to play this amazing game. I can't wait to watch the rugby at the Rio Paralympics. Cheer on athletes who play my sport. Folk who share my passion for this game. An exhilarating game that challenges me and helps me feel like myself again.

My team mate Jason, who also has MS, calls me the ‘smiling assassin’. I think it’s because this is the only sport that has ever made me audibly go ‘wheeeee!’

Debra is a wheelchair rugby playing, four trak skiing, digital artist and natural history enthusiast. She is trying to crush MS with as many activities as possible.

>> Find out more about the Caledonian Crushers and wheelchair rugby clubs across the UK. Players have to have an impairment on at least three of their limbs. This could be sensation, function or coordination problems. Have a chat with your local club to see if you're eligible to play.

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