Wheelchairs Collide In New Rugby Camp For Women

“I spent my whole life on the sidelines, and so now for there to be a sport that I can get in the air and be part of a team and just—you know, it’s okay to ram chairs—very cool feeling.”


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The University of Houston is usually pretty quiet during the summer. But on a recent Friday, a court in the rec center is anything but. Teammates shout, referees blow whistles and metal clangs together.

It’s the sound of wheelchairs colliding together. That's because these athletes are playing wheelchair rugby. And it's not for the faint of heart. After all, it's called "Murderball" for a reason.

“I've wanted to do a contact sport my whole life, and I became a wheelie probably a year and a half ago, and so I was like ‘Sweet! A contact sport!'” said Gretchen Bailey.

She and a few dozen other athletes joined for the first-ever all-women's wheelchair rugby camp at UH. Bailey, 33, has been playing the sport for only two days. She said that she's already hooked.

"I spent my whole life on the sidelines, and so now for there to be a sport that I can get in the air and be part of a team and just—you know, it's okay to ram chairs—very cool feeling," she said.

Organizers said that this camp is the first of its kind because it's only open to female athletes. Michael Cottingham is an assistant professor and program director. He said that they want to bring more women into the game and close the gender gap.

"Wheelchair rugby is a co-ed sport, but there's not a lot of female participation. We really wanted to create an environment where women could come together and participate with female athletes,” he said.

The camp also aimed to promote athleticism for people with disabilities. Cottingham said that the employment rate for the average person without a disability is about 93 percent. But it's only about 18 percent for wheelchair users. That number jumps up to the mid-60’s for wheelchair users who participate in a sport.

"It lowers depression, it lowers rates of substance abuse, it increases rates of employment, increases relationship experience, because there's a lot of peer mentorship,” he said.

Some players at the camp have done other sports. Take Gretchen Bailey. She also participates in wheelchair motocross, where wheelchair users take to skate parks. They perform flips, wheelies and other tricks off of ramps. Bailey said that these aggressive outlets have helped her the most.

"When you're in a lot of pain, and stuff like that, it can get very frustrating. You can get a lot of anger, so working out really helps with that, too. And a little bit of contact really helps with that too,” she said.

The camp lasted three days and was open to all ability levels. Some athletes came from as far as France to participate.

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