Paralympic stars help celebrate new Plymouth wheelchair rugby club
Two of the players from the famous UK Paralympic wheelchair rugby squad had made their way the Life Centre in Plymouth this weekend to celebrate the official opening of a new wheelchair rugby club in the city.
Team GB captain Steve Brown and Dave Anthony, known for his hard hits and Mohican hairstyle, took part in an exhibition match between the newly formed West Country Hawks and a mixed South Wales Pirates and Team GB select squad.
Before the Hawks were formed, the nearest club for anyone who wanted to play wheelchair rugby, or murderball as it is also know, was the South Wales Pirates.
One of the players on the West Country Hawks was 14 year-old Ed Larkin, who has been playing for 18 months. At the exhibition match he was going up against some of his heroes
“It is amazing. Today I will be playing against Steve Brown and Dave Anthony. They are my idols and now I will be on the same pitch. I simply cannot believe it,” he said.
“I remember when I found out that they were going to be here at the opening. I think my jaw hit the floor.”
Captain of the Hawks, Adam Simmons, started playing eight years ago in Cardiff. He said that one of the many good things about the new club was much less time on the roads for wheelchair rugby players in the South West.
“Before it could easily take us hours just to get to training. It was something we would do, because we are dedicated to the sport, but it really does make things easier,” he said.
For Adam Simmons wheelchair rugby gave him the chance to compete on the field.
“I am definitely a different person on court compared to off it,” he said.
“It means a lot to have a sport like wheelchair rugby. A lot of the time, people will – consciously or unconsciously – wrap us in cotton wool. There is none of that on the pitch. It is full-on aggression for the entire game, but you leave it all out there and are good friends as soon as the final whistle blows.”
“The greatest thing about the sport has been the social factor. I have made friends throughout the country through wheelchair rugby”
Team GB captain Steve Brown had travelled five hours from Kent to be at the event.
“The interest since the Paralympics has been incredible. As an athlete, your focus is on the next game and on doing your best, but having talked with a lot of people since the games, I think that we inspired people think about what it means to be in a wheelchair and what we are actually capable of,“ he said.
“When I got injured, a lot of my life felt like it became flat, easy and safe. That was not how I wanted to live or how I was used to living. It was part of the initial attraction to wheelchair rugby that is fast, hard and anything but easy. Today I am fascinated with the tactical side of the game. I love out-thinking my opponent.”
“If you look at some of these guys here today, they are used to getting up at all hours of the morning to go to training or tournaments and that level of dedication is worth celebrating.“
Dave Anthony said he thought the West Country Hawks could help draw more people to the sport.
“It is great to see that they have the backing here and that the South West now has a club. I make no secret of the fact that what attracted me to the sport and part of what I like to do is the crashing into people. It might be the Welsh influence, because we do like our rugby,” he said with a smile.
“When we smash into each other, our chairs and bodies go through forces up to eight or nine G’s. It is only for a fraction of a second, but you definitely feel the impact.“
David Pond, Chief Executive of GB Wheelchair Rugby, said that the interest in the sport had been incredible since the Paralympics.
“It has been amazing. We went from an almost unknown sport to the front page of national newspapers and TV. We have a new club opening here in Plymouth and another on the way in Southampton,” he said.
“We hope that as many people as possible join the new clubs and get a first-hand feel for what it can do for their fitness, their self-confidence, sociably and give them motivation to push themselves,” he added.
Bruce Danbury, Director of Considered Business Solutions, has become the West Country Hawk's first sponsor by financing the team kit.
“I first got involved it wheelchair rugby through volunteering for the Olympics and Paralympics. And once I had seen them in action, I was blown away by the sport,” he said.
“It is not a cheap sport for the people taking part. I think a chair alone will set back a player around £3000, so I hope there are other companies and businessmen in the South West who will be interested in sponsoring the new team.”
The West Country Hawks, train every Monday at Plymouth Life Centre between 6pm-7pm, with newcomers welcome to drop by and give the sport a go.
Although the team were formed in October 2011, this season will be Hawks' first foray into competitive action in the British Wheelchair Rugby League.
The league is split into two divisions, with Hawks in Division Two along with Caledonian Crushers, North Wales Dragons, North East Bulls and Crash B.