A local man is committed to helping bring the sport of wheelchair rugby to Red Deer.
Currently there are only two teams in the province, one in Calgary and one in Edmonton.
Jeff Dow plays for the Calgary team on a full-time basis, but said it would be nice to have something closer to home.
“If we can get enough people involved we can play here in Red Deer. There’re two of us that travel full-time to play on a Calgary team and another that’s part-time,” he said.
Dow added that many people interested in playing simply can’t afford to travel to play, or can’t find the means by which to get to one of the two larger cities.
“We have the backing of the Calgary and Edmonton teams, too. They think [Red Deer] is a great hub to meet, too, and to have three-way tournaments right in the middle between [the cities].”
Wheelchair rugby games have been played at Red Deer College and at Lindsay Thurber high school which proves, according to Dow, Red Deer has enough facilities to host a full-time team.
Wheelchair rugby teams are comprised of four players plus two or more spares. The season runs from September to June/July and Dow said the biggest stumbling block is finding interested, and committed, players.
Dow said both the Edmonton and Calgary teams are pushing to see a team organized in Red Deer so that everyone can get together and practice and compete.
“It’s not even all about the competition; it’s more for practice and exercise. I’ve been in a wheelchair for ten years and I joined [wheelchair rugby] 2.5 years ago. It’s changed my life with the travelling across Canada and the people I’ve met; it’s just a totally different quality of life.”
Dow added that he has the support of Wheelchair Sports Alberta (WSA) as well. Jen Sales, executive director of WSA, said everyone is welcome to participate and try wheelchair rugby. To play competitively however, participants must be living with four limb impairments.
“Historically the sport was called Murderball or Quad Rugby, and it was developed by Canadian wheelchair athletes designed for quadriplegics. Now we can classify athletes of all different impairment levels from spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, amputation and many other situations,” said Sales.
Sales added that the opportunities within an established team would include out-of-province and out-of-country travel.
“There are also opportunities to compete with Team Alberta at Nationals. If the athletes develop to the national level, there are opportunities for these athletes to travel internationally and compete with Team Canada at the Paralympics,” said Sales.
Dow’s desire to have a Red Deer based team is supported by WSA as Sales said while most people living with lower limb impairments live in the two major centres, there are potential athletes living in smaller cities or even rural areas through the province.
“We have many athletes that travel hours to and from practice weekly to participate, and this will hopefully assist our more central athletes by giving them an option closer to their homes,” said Sales.
On top of growing the sport within Alberta, the addition of a third team in the province would bring more awareness to wheelchair sports in general.
“Every new athlete that participates in this sport will have a positive impact on their lives by getting them involved in the impairment community, along with improving their overall wellbeing through physical activity.”
For more information or to contact Jeff Dow for details phone 403-352-1980 or email him at rdwheelchairrugbyclu[email protected].
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