HandiCap sur le Monde was lucky to meet the Wheel Blacks, national team of special rugby during their training in Auckland. Thomas also got the opportunity to take part of the training and discover behind the scene of this fascinating sport.
The wheelchair rugby, a sport in expansion since the Paralympic games of London
Even if the event is still not well-known in France, the wheelchair rugby or rugby quad was a franc success during the Paralympic Games of London 2012 and has new adepts every day. Combination of several sports, the wheelchair rugby is playing on a basketball court, with a volley ball but respect the main principles of rugby. Created by Canadians in 1977, the rules of this game are a mix between those from rugby, basketball and hockey. Each team has four players on the court. The objective is to carry the ball after the adverse goal line. To count the try, the two wheels of the player have to be after the line also and the ball has to be carried firmly.
To practice this game, the players have special wheelchair with double bumpers to resist to the contacts during a game. Even if it is reserved for tetraplegic people, this wheelchair rugby can have people from different sex in the same team. The inclusion by sport is in this case a reality because “valid” people are also accepted in the team without any distinction. Thanks to this rule, the famous rugby team, the All Blacks, already played against the other Kiwi team in wheelchair.
This sport, still recent, was introduced to the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000 and each year, its member’s number increases. Thanks to its spectacular side and the exploits realized by the best international players, this sport has every chance to be better mediatized in the coming years. The French team, which was present this summer, was founded only six years ago. Because our team is young, it won no game during the Paralympic tournament but its level is getting better every year. The French team is organized around the charismatic Ryad Sallem, one of the most important people in the area of handisport in France.
In the rugby country, a future to construct for the Wheel Blacks
The New-Zealand wheelchair rugby team has a glorious past. In fact, the Wheel Blacks won the Paralympics in Athens in 2004. Like their valid colleagues, the Wheel Blacks also do the Haka before a game in purpose to remind their Maoris origins. New-Zealand, 9th in the international raking, did not take part to the Paralympic tournament of London because only the 8 first were selected for the 2012 edition. The New-Zealand players are training very hard to take part again to the Paralympics.
Some young prospects begin to integrate the team and predict a victorious future for the Wheel Blacks. Before, the team benefits from the government to finance their equipment and travels. Because of their recoil in the international ranking, it is not the case anymore. The team has to find new sponsor to reach its objectives. For now, the players, former valid rugby players in majority, have to pay some of their travel expenses to take part of the international competitions. In consequences, the Wheel Blacks organize some charity event to get their sport better known and to raise funds. For example, the Auckland casino gave some money people did not win to the team; it helped them to participate to an international tournament. The team also steps in schools to get the wheelchair rugby known and develop it. Those interventions have another side: they make children sensitive to disability and to demystify disability through sport.
A practice with the Wheel Blacks: sportive, contact and surpassing ourselves
Dan Buckingham and Tony Howe, the Wheel Blacks coach, offer us to meet them during one of their practices this Thursday February 21th, 2013. After a quick reminder about the fundamental principles, the history and the records of this sport with Dan, Thomas takes part in the first section of the training to live this experience by the inside. Once in his wheelchair, he has to take gloves and scotch them to get the propulsion easier and faster.
The program is composed by a lot of exercises which develop the athletes physic capacity: ground round in different trajectories, crossed passes, claiming of a steep hill outside of the gym… Those first games are really physicals and demand a lot of strength. Thomas is not used to that amount of effort but the support from the team really helps him. Each workout comes with some “push it” or “come in, come in”. The players take a lot of breaks to rehydrate themselves because the majority of tetraplegic people have the particularity to not sweat. In consequences, it is really important to fill this incapacity to get the body’s temperature. Thomas and Emma will observe the strategic exercises. If we thought that the first part was impressive, it was nothing compared to the second one! Contacts are abundants and the players have to repeat them a lot to get automatisms. The Wheel Blacks are training for the tournament in Germany in March 2013. Each player has a precise role and sticks to it. The utility of the bounders makes now all its sense. We also know why this sport was so famous during the Paralympics of London! We are impressed by the agility of the players and their capacity to break the adverse defense.
This sport gains to be better known; it is up to its thousands of players. It is all we can wish to those athletes who struggle to make their sport exist on the international scene.
Following a video takes during the training: