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Wheelchair rugby: “We might be disabled in everyday life, but here we are fully able to take part”

A woman with short hair wearing an orange sports bib sitting in a wheelchair next to a man on her left and on her right who are wearing the navy blue Crawley Rugby Club kit with another female member of the team in the far distance
Trish Duffy (in the orange sports bib) pictured with (from left) Victoria Lacy, Matthew Hatch and Jack Hagan

Wheelchair rugby: "We might be disabled in everyday life, but here we are fully able to take part"

As part of our series looking at various sports in the Paralympics and Olympics we went to visit the Crawley Jets – a wheelchair rugby team that is part of Crawley Rugby Club.

There we learnt more about the sport and why the members take part. 

This article is one of a series of articles. You can watch a video of the Crawley Jets here.

Trish Duffy is one of the original Crawley Jets players, who meet every Monday night, and she also plays for the Solent Sharks in Southampton.

“Wheelchair rugby is a full-contact wheelchair sport, a bit like bumper cars, and quite violent really,” smiles Trish. 

“I enjoy it because it is a full-contact sport and a lot of people when you go out and about are like ‘oh no, poor you, you are in a wheelchair’ and they don’t think you are capable of anything. 

“The amount of times I have gone out and they have talked to the person with me whereas here I am fully able. I am just as able as everyone else. I come along, I can be physical, I can get out that aggression, I can have fun.”

Trish has used a wheelchair for six and a half years and has a rare neurological condition called neuromitomia, which means when she tries to engage a muscle it does not relax.

“I got into the sport because I played football and that was obviously not accessible to me anymore,” Trish explains. “So I was looking for a sport that I could play that was going to give me that rush like football did.”

Wheelchair rugby was originally developed for quadriplegics, but due to several different disciplines created it is now open to a wider variety of people.

The two main disciplines are the 4s and 5s.

“So there’s the 4s which is the Paralympic version, which you will see at the Paralympics in Paris and then there is the 5s version,” Trish explains.

“The 4s version is more for people who are less functional in terms of their ability to move around so they have a three limb minimum impairment. 

“And then you have got the 5s version, which is open up to more people, so any physical disability at all.

“4s and 5s are played slightly differently as because 5s have more function there is less need for defence chairs. 

“The defence chairs have a pick bar at the front. I have an attack chair which has more of a rounded front. 

“The idea is the less functional players use a pick chair and then defend and stop people from stopping their attackers from moving forward with the ball. 

“The attack players, like myself, hold on to the ball and weave in and out, using our picks who are blocking for us to get around players and score. 

“We play on a basketball court, so the goal line is the baseline and there are two cones and you have to go through the middle of the two cones.”

As wheelchair rugby is predominantly about the shoulders, hands and arms, players are graded not on their disability, but on the function they have in those limbs. 

They are then given points, so that the players who have less function and the players who have more function play together to even out the playing field.

For Trish, this sport is a great leveller, as well as benefitting her physically, mentally and socially.

“Sport is good for everybody whether you are disabled or able-bodied,” Trish says. “It gets you out, it gets you socialising. 

“You come to places like this and you get to play with lots of other people who know what it is like to be disabled, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. 

“It is a place where we don’t have to be ‘oh, poor disabled person’ – we might be disabled in everyday life, but here we are fully able to take part and it makes you feel strong. It makes you feel like you are doing something that is worthwhile.”

There are two wheelchair rugby teams in Sussex – the Crawley Jets which practice at the K2 in Crawley on a Monday evening, and the Brighton Buccaneers who play at The Sports Centre, at the Falmer Campus at the University of Brighton.

To find out how you can get involved in wheelchair rugby, visit https://gbwr.org.uk/

Or for more information about the Crawley Jets, visit https://www.crawleyrfc.com/teams/234316/the-team

Read about how the Crawley Jets came about here

Read here the story of Crawley Jets player Victoria Lacy

Read how you can benefit from wheelchair rugby whatever your age

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