No limb, no limits, no problems for me
Those silly meat limbs, no, I’m meant to be free.
Who needs ten fingers or toes or two feet?
Maybe even my arms are limiting me.
They flop all around when I wave to my friends
And they keep me stuck when I hold on to them.
I mean they’re useless, when you’re not climbing trees
I’d rather roll around like a roly-poly.
Well, I do need arms to slide my butt on the ground
And they do come in handy when I’m “running” around.
And hands are OK, if you want to grab things
And fingers can be useful, if you want to wear rings.
But legs – No way! Totally dumb
Who wants to run? Who needs to jump?
It’s ridiculous to think that I need knees –
No shin splints, no ACL, no pulled achilles!
Sure I have back problems and neck strains galore
And people step on me cause I’m so low to the floor
And they tell me, “Use a wheelchair or wear your prostheses.”
But riding my skateboard just makes everything easy.
I was born without legs so I could be free.
No legs, no limits, no problems for me,
Now there is just one thing I wish that could be
For society to be free of stigmas about me.
Below is an original article written by the Tucson Renegades Coach, Chris Cook. It served as the inspiration for my more detailed account of my first year in Quad Rugby:
After finishing 2nd in D1 at Nationals in Louisville in April 2015, losing somewhat decisively to our inner state rival and defending National Champion Phoenix Heat, we were disappointed, but we knew we had to continue to work hard to achieve our goal.
We also knew our 2014-15 import Leon Jorgensen from Denmark would not return this year. So where do we go from here?
With an Olympic year ahead and the collective reasoning of many top teams not to go the route of importing talent but instead to play with what we have here at home and further develop our own talent, we uncovered a gem.
Leon actually made the connection, meeting Pasqual (Paco) Torres on the basketball court in Tucson. Paco was already practicing hoops in Tucson two nights per week, and his plate was full. However, Leon was persistent, and, after the third time asking, Paco came out to a rugby practice. Ironically, our Danish import 3.0 had recruited his 3.5 replacement. Furthermore, both U of A and Phoenix had met Paco and tried recruiting him, but finally Paco felt like the Renegades were the best fit.
Paco, who is 37-years-old and in phenomenal shape, is a congenital bilateral amputee (better known in quad rugby speak as a “freak” for his high level of function). He was an accomplished high school wrestler prior to finding out about wheelchair sports. His overall love for sports, combined with his intellect, instinct, and chair skills, enabled him to grasp the game very quickly. Teammate Chad Cohn obtained a used Vesco chair from another quad amp, Nick Springer, and, while it doesn’t fit him perfectly, it has served Paco well the past several months.
Through diligent practice and being a great listener, Paco has gone from an off-the-bench player garnering occasional minutes to being in a regular rotation against many of the top teams in D1. We only have 7 rostered players this year, and 6 of them are qualified for post-season. Due to the schedule conflict between USQRA Nationals and IWRF Paris qualifying tournament in April – and the fact that Josh Wheeler, Adam Scaturro, and Chad Cohn are on Team USA and heading for Paris – we are left with 3 players for Nationals. Mountain Sectionals will be Tucson’s last tournament this year. Consequently, outstanding rookie Pasqual Torres’ skills and rapid assent as a 3.5 will not be showcased at Nationals. He has applied for a Challenged Athletes Foundation Grant and, if awarded, he will be properly fit with his own chair by next season. We are thrilled to have Paco on the team and excited about the future.
When Paco is not on the court, he is employed doing Litigation Technology for the US Attorney in Tucson. He is also the father of two girls, Anabella age 9 and Lynnea age 11, from a previous marriage. He is currently married to Emily Eldredge, who has also been an amazing helper and brought great energy to the Tucson Rugby Program.
Back in 2009, I was alone in a bar near the University of Arizona, talking to my then-girlfriend on the phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw 3 guys in wheelchairs playing pool. For whatever reason I thought, I should talk to these guys. So I finished my beer, stumbled off the bar stool, and glided over to them on my skateboard.
“Hey, do you guys play any sports for the U of A?”
They seemed surprised – probably not by my question but that some dude with no legs had just rolled up to them on a skateboard.
(Side note: Even in the disability world, I get stared at for not being in a wheelchair.)
They looked me up and down, smiled at the idea, and said, “Yeah, give us your number, and we’ll call you.”
I thought, Damn, I sound like a fool. I’m an old guy, out of shape, don’t even have a wheelchair, and I think I can just join a university athletic team – like I’m Rudy? I figured they would lose my number, and I’d never get a chance to play.
To my surprise, they called me a few days later: “We have open try-outs, so just come by the U of A on Wednesday or Saturday mornings, and we’ll get you a chair.”
My heart sank.
Choosing between what you want to do and want you need to do for your family can be tough. It’s hard to know which one is right, and sometimes being selfish can work out for everyone. However, with a full-time job, custody of my 4- and 6-year old daughters on the weekend, and no childcare back-up plan, I couldn’t see how I would squeeze in rugby practice. I told them I couldn’t make it.
Not long after, a DIII men’s wheelchair basketball team, the Tucson Lobos, invited me to play with them. With Tuesday and Thursday night practices that were close to my office, I could make this work.
For 5 years, I played with the Lobos – improving in every area, except shooting. Our coach would laugh at me, saying that, with only 4 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other, I really didn’t have the hands for basketball. He suggested I play wheelchair rugby.
I continued to play wheelchair basketball.
Fast forward to 2015. My former girlfriend Emily and I are happily married, my kids are older, and a Danish man who looks like the actor Chris Elliot randomly shows up at our basketball practice. He said he was there to play basketball, but his lack of arm strength made us question his motives.
At the end of practice, he came up to me and said, “You need to try wheelchair rugby. We practice Saturday mornings“. I politely declined, “No, I spend that time with my kids.” He came to the next practice and urged me again. I declined again. By the 3rd week of him coming to basketball practice, I finally said, “OK.”
At first I was afraid… I was petrified…
I had a lot of fears before I even started. I didn’t think I could handle the sport, I wasn’t sure I would fit in with a group of college-age guys, and I felt like I was abandoning my kids. Though I knew my wife could handle them, I had never left them alone with her, and I thought they would be upset. (It turns out they barely noticed I was gone!)
So Saturday morning, my wife watched the kids while I went to try out for the team. I got there at 9 am, as they had suggested, and quickly learned a new term: “Quad Time.” Between the massive amount of equipment they need and the limited function they have in their arms and legs (mostly due to spinal cord injuries), it took an hour for them to get ready. By 10am, we were finally on the court, ready to play.
The chair they set aside for me had giant red wheels and looked like a small armored tank – and seemed to weigh just as much! I thought, How am I supposed to push this thing around? Also, with a deep bucket seat meant for guys with no feeling in their legs, it was very uncomfortable. I felt like a sardine crammed into a tiny tin can.
“So, in this game you are the high pointer. You carry the ball, and, if you are good, you score every play,” the coach explained to me. I didn’t understand. In basketball, I was teased for having bad hands, and now I’m being told to handle the ball in every play? In fact, they said that, if I throw the ball to anyone else, it might cause a turnover, and they didn’t want that.
So we played a game, and, besides my speed, I was really awful. I passed the ball so many times and had so many turnovers that even they started to think maybe this was a mistake. They joked about how much I dribbled and played like a basketball player, yet they insisted, “In this sport you have the best hands… You are the #1 option… Slow down… Follow your pickers… Stop throwing the ball!”
Huh? How could I be the #1 guy in this sport? I felt like a failure and had no clue why they thought I would be any good.
But I didn’t give up.
Not only did I keep going to practice every Saturday morning, but my wife and I drove up to Phoenix every Wednesday night so I could practice with the Phoenix Heat at Ability 360, a multi-sport facility in Phoenix.
There, I met USA Paralympian Nick Springer, a fellow amputee, who took me under his wing and helped me suck less at the game. Without knowing me from a pile of bricks, he coached me on the court and made me feel as if I belonged there.
Here was a guy who lost his hands and legs to meningitis when he was 14 – and he is a Paralympic champion! He never gave up, never complained, and pushed faster than anyone else out there. After seeing him play, I knew that, with my 6 fingers, I could improve.
(Even sider note: I have informally surveyed paralyzed people and single leg amputees on which they would choose: a leg infection or amputation? No one chooses amputation. They would rather have a bad leg than none at all. And that is why I have great respect for Nick. Just like me, he never had the option. Being amputees helped us connect. Plus, we share a similar sense of humor.)
Also on the Phoenix team are Team USA Captain Joe Delagrave and former Team USA player and Phoenix coach, Scott Hogsett (who is also featured in the wheelchair rugby documentary Murderball). They taught me many of the finer points of wheelchair rugby. I learned to move my “tank” like a nimble wrecking ball and stopped dribbling the ball all the time. I still wasn’t the best player when it came to strategy, but I got a better sense of my abilities and gained confidence in working with my teammates.
As the summer ended, I had the option of joining 3 teams: the University of Arizona, the Phoenix Heat, and the Tucson Renegades. I decided to join the Tucson Renegades – not only because they are in Tucson but also because I would be playing with 4 Team USA players: Chad Cohn, Josh Wheeler, Derrick Helton, and Adam Scaturro. The Danish guy, Leon “The Professional” Jorgensen, had gone back home to play on the Danish team, so there was room on the Renegades for a short guy with some speed.
The Renegades gladly took me under their wing and, to my surprise, asked me to join them in Phoenix to train in a closed session with Team USA. I wasn’t being considered for the team, but I would act as a developmental player and learn from the other players and staff.
My roommate, a young energetic guy by the name of Kory Puderbaugh, was also being evaluated by the team. Meeting Kory was like meeting a younger me: he is almost half my age, does not have legs, and has two fingers on one hand (no arm below the elbow on the other). Born in Poland and adopted by American parents, he has a heart of gold and is strong as an ox without giving up any speed or flexibility. He must have asked me a million questions that first night, and I answered each and every one. Right away, I knew he was a good guy.
In fact, everyone on Team USA is really “Good People”. They gave me advice on how to improve my speed, work smarter instead of harder, and take on leadership roles on and off the court. I listened and soaked up as much as I could, not knowing what I didn’t know and quickly figuring out my role with each player line up. We spent 8 hours a day running drills and scrimmages so the coaches could determine who on Team USA was prepared to play in the upcoming international games. This experience was priceless and a great eye-opener on how seriously they took the game.
After the team selections were made and we all went back to our club teams, I kept in contact with Kory. I offered to give him any advice or support he may need. I figured maybe I could be his mentor or at the very least help him stay out of trouble. In either case, he accepted and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned over time.
The official wheelchair rugby season began with “Duel in the Desert” at Ability 360. Standing Amputee Basketball, Wheelchair Basketball, Power-Chair Soccer, and Quad Rugby were all played at this tournament, allowing cross-sport interactions between players of various levels of disability.
I had played this tournament the previous year with my basketball team, but, at Duel in the Desert 2015, I did something that may never have been done before: I played both Quad Rugby and Wheelchair Basketball at the same event. Games were within minutes of each other, so I switched back and forth between chairs. Totaling 6 games in 2 days, it was a test of my endurance – and the patience of my two teams!
While I did well in Rugby, I quickly fouled out of my first two basketball games. After playing the high-contact sport of Quad Rugby all summer, the “no contact” rule of wheelchair basketball seemed utterly ridiculous. It was easy to see that rugby not only favored my need for physical contact, but that basketball was probably safer without me.
As the Quad Rugby season continued, my team competed at numerous tournaments in San Diego, Tucson, Alabama, and Phoenix. I gained more experience on the court, learned strategy while on the sidelines, used my pickers, and even improved my defense – to the point where my teammates trusted me enough to start a few games. At Sectionals, our final meet of the season, I played more minutes than I had nearly the entire season.
Also, while reviewing game film in my free time, I noticed that we were missing key opportunities against our rival team. Based on this discovery, I shared an idea with the coach, who changed up our defensive pressure, and we easily defeated the team to win Sectionals!
At the end of 2015, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) agreed to fund a custom rugby wheelchair for me by Vesco Metal Craft. I received the chair in March – just in time to face my greatest challenge as an athlete: I was invited to try out for the Team USA wheelchair rugby training squad for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro!
In April 2016, I traveled to the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, AL, an Olympic and Paralympic training center and the Team USA wheelchair rugby headquarters. There, they held 4 long days of try-outs. 34 players were invited, but only 16 would be chosen.
Day One started with a written exam on the rules of the game. While a few of us had studied the night before, it asked for more than I could remember. After the test, we went to the gym and prepared for the Lakeshore mile, which consisted of 8 laps around a track that circled 3 basketball courts. I had trained for the mile by doing 2 miles twice a week for a month. It really helped with my confidence and endurance, but it didn’t prepare me for the jumbled mess that was 16 wheelchairs at once on a track, all vying for a good position. Nevertheless, I finished only 30 seconds slower than my usual track time, which is 6:25. The remainder of the day was all about fitness and accuracy drills: we threw the ball at targets and did shorter time trial events. I performed well, even getting the fastest time in the full-court sprint!
Day Two was scrimmaging. I struggled to make sense of all the new plays and focused on scoring as much as possible. I soon realized that, even though 4 of my Tucson Renegade teammates where there, they were also competing for a spot on the team and didn’t have time to coach me, as they had done all season. I found myself on the bad end of a lot of plays and pretty frustrated.
Day Three I felt like I was performing better, scoring more readily, and following my pickers. However, after several poor passes in key scoring situations, I could tell it wasn’t going well. Sadly, by the afternoon of Day Three, my training was over. I was at lunch when a player who’d seen the cut list offered up his condolences. I went back to my room and called my wife with the news.
“Hey, life is tough for a 38-year-old rookie,” I told her. It’s not like I wanted to make excuses, but I was the second oldest person to try out. Also, as the USA coach said to me in my exit interview, I need more time on the court to learn the game. He said I should study tape and talk to my coaches. Though I’ve made huge strides in less than one year, I was not yet ready for the big league.
Despite the outcome at Lakeshore, I still have a lot to celebrate. Less than a year after sitting in my first rugby wheelchair, I got to play with the USA Team twice, I tried out for the Paralympics, my team finished our club season with a huge win, and I met a lot of really great people along the way.
Thanks to my time at Lakeshore, I know what I need to do to prepare for next year. Now that we’re in the off-season, I plan to watch a lot of game tape, work on my pushing technique, and ask lots of questions of my coaches. I’m also going to a summer training camp at the U of A and looking forward to all I can learn.
Having been born without legs and only 6 fingers, I used to say, “I’m the most disabled person I know.” However, that’s because I had had limited involvement with the disabled community. Being involved with Quad Rugby has taught me lessons greater than just the strategy of the sport. I have seen people with less mobility than I play with Team USA levels of fitness and skill. I have been humbled meeting others who face greater adversity than I. And I have learned to care for my teammates like they are my brothers.
In wheelchair rugby, we are “classed” according to our unique levels of function. However, I have learned that class means something far more than just one’s ability to play the game.
(Final side note: Disabled athletes don’t just deal with sports injuries – many deal with health issues that caused them to be disabled or that come with being disabled, and they persevere despite a great amount of pain and adversity. One of our players is having some health challenges, so I pray for him and hope he makes it back next season, even stronger than before.)
I feel proud of how far I have come in my first year of Quad Rugby, and I am grateful to the people who have worked hard to coach me and support me.
Thank you, wheelchair rugby world, for letting me into your club. I know you didn’t have to. As I raise my game to the next level, I hope it can match the level of respect I have for all of you.
Whoooooa USA! Go Eagles!
Good morning everybody, sit down so we can begin,
I’m going to share with you a lesson, I won’t repeat my self again.
There are two political parties, they go by a few different names
But don’t make a mistake about it, they operate the same
It is all politics, learn this lesson now,
They try to trick everybody so you got to teach yourself
The media’s involved, they’ve all been bought and paid,
They want everyone to buy their garbage, and an continue to donate
And over in the corner are the people that think independently
They shake their heads in disgusts, at everything they see
But it’s OK for now, we still have time to think
Don’t let them do it for you, you got to teach yourself
They keep pointing their fingers, saying the other ones to blame,
But the people are the ones that always suffer, when they play this game
I think it is time for the people to turn off their TV
Sit down and talk with their neighbors about everything they see
I say, take a stand, let’s think independently,
Go talk to every body, and don’t just listen to me
Someones gotta win the election and I hope it’s someone good
A person that acts as We the people and not for the corporate hoods
If you gotta vote for someone, think of more than just yourself
The President represents us all not just the people with wealth
But it will be OK, if we learn our lessons now,
Please talk to everybody, don’t just think of yourself.
Yes, we’ll be OK, if we come together now,
Please talk to everybody, before election day.
When I was four years old my father gave my brother a skateboard. It took him about 10 minutes to hit his face on the ground. There was blood but thankfully no need for stitches. He could have given up right then and there but he didn’t. He continued to skateboard for another 10 years until he got a car. That was also the day that I learned I could use a skateboard to get around. Yes, I had prosthetic legs since the age of 2 but they were slow and unstable and I wanted to go fast and a skateboard allowed me to go as fast as my little hands could push me. I discovered a new sense of mobility and freedom which I would enjoy for many years to come. It was a great form of transportation, it was portable and didn’t cost me very much to maintain. I used a skateboard to go to school, my friend’s house and even the public library but then came sixth grade.
My dad knew junior high was right around the corner and he decided it was time to get a wheelchair. His reasoning was junior high would be crowded and he didn’t want my hands to get stepped on. So he talked to his insurance company and got me my first wheelchair at age 11. I can’t say I loved it. It was good being up off the ground and able to look people in the face but I lost a certain amount of freedom. The other kids always wanted to push me. It could be a nice break if I was tired but in junior high it was mostly boys pushing me into crowds of people. “Get out of the way”, became my battle cry. The teachers would blame me as if I was some reckless driver but in reality I was just as mad as they were.
I do not have fond memories of that time but the wheelchair did give me the ability to travel farther with a lot less effort. I would go to the closest shopping plaza that was 3 miles from my house with no problem, which would be totally out of the question on my skateboard. And I could more easily carry books on the back of my chair than on my actual back. I would still use a skateboard as needed but, until I was 16, a wheelchair was my main mode of transportation.
At age 16 the wheelchair I had gotten in 6th grade had taken a beating and was not in very good condition. It also seemed tiny compared to my huge shoulders. The family I was living with literally took it out to the dump and left it there. It was 1995 and they didn’t know what to do with it. The pre-Internet days were a sad and lonely time. But it didn’t really matter. I want to start using my prosthetic legs at school, and they became my primary means of mobility the last two years of high school.
My first time in a sports wheelchair was about 16 years old. In our high school if you were nearly 16 you could sign up for Drivers’ Ed. Since it was only a semester course I needed an elective that was also a semester to balance my schedule. So I just looked at what fit my and I found tennis. Not wheelchair tennis, this was a town of 50,000 people in 1994. I was going to play in my standard wheelchair. Well this did not sit well with the tennis teacher. She thought I was going to fall back and crack my head in that chair so she called in a favor to a local wheelchair sport coach. And that was the day I met Art Parson.
Art was the kind of guy everyone loved but as soon as you began to play sports with him that love quickly faded. He was a reverend off the court and dictator on the court. Well he showed up and brought with him an old basketball wheelchair and he and I would play against each other every day. At some point he asked me to play on his basketball team which I did for a year before I moved to Tucson. I can’t say I was any good at basketball but being on a team was exciting and I was pretty fast in a wheelchair. But after moving away I never really thought about playing again.
After graduation I used my insurance again to get a larger chair that I could get around a college campus. From the years 18 to about 26 I used this same chair. It was a Quickie chair that had slight angle in the wheels but it wasn’t anything too exciting. It got me where I needed to go, unless that place required me easily putting it in the trunk of my car. So at 26 when I was about to take a trip to New York City for the first time, I went on eBay and bought a new, folding wheelchair, yes like the ones you’d get if you broke your foot. No permanently disabled person would be caught dead with one of these but it was great for quick trips and air travel. I have that one to the present day, though it doesn’t get much use.
About the age of 32 I ran into the coach of the U of A Women’s basketball team and he told me to come by the local YMCA and play with the city team. I tried it out for 6 months and I really was not great and quit. Then I ran into him 2 years later in the parking lot of my local hardware store and he convinced me again to come out. I played with that team for 3 years and used a CAF grant to get a great chair made by Hands on Concept. It changed my game from pathetic to fast but I was still a terrible shooter. But when I returned to the team, I found out my old friend Art Parsons was on the team. In any case, my defense got much better and I had better control in the bucket seat. Playing with the team has been a challenge since we haven’t had a full time coach in two years and we play against very strong competition in our area. But we have a lot of fun and it has gotten me into great shape.
After a few years of playing basketball I was at a mixed adaptive sports tournament in Phoenix called Duel in the Dessert, at Ability 360, the Tucson Lobos where there to play basketball and some players from the wheelchair rugby team took notice of me and asked that I try out for their team. They sent one of their players to our basketball practice a few times I finally said I would come out to play and well I had a great time. I had to borrow a chair for the first season but thanks to another CAF grant and contributions from friends and family I was able to purchase a brand new rugby chair that was custom fitted for me from Vesco Metal. It has been a long season and with only one tournament left I am excited to end the year in my new chair.
Bonus: I was just invited to train with the USAWR (that is the Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby) team at the end of April. If I do well I could be on the practice squad and have good chance of playing in the Paralympics one day. Wish me luck.