This is a part of the Hot Topic podcast series from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center on Exercise and Fitness After Spinal Cord Injury. Katie Smith, SCI Survivor, discusses About Wheelchair Rugby.

When I was in rehab, one of the therapists showed me the movie “Murder Ball.” They knew I was really involved in sports before and I played rugby. And they showed me the documentary “Murder Ball,” and I thought it was really cool. I didn’t really know how I would access that at the time, but I really thought it was neat.

After I’d been discharged, I came back for an outpatient rehab visit. And when I was in the waiting room, my mom saw another guy in a wheelchair over on the doctor’s side waiting to see his doctor. She said, “You should go talk to him.” I’m like, “Not everybody in wheelchairs has to be friends. Like, let’s not. Let’s just, like, stay here and be cool.” I went to the restroom; I came back; she was over there talking to him. But here he played on the Pittsburgh Steel Wheelers Rugby team. And we got to talking. He said, “Come to a practice.” I went to a practice, and that’s when they threw me in a chair and crashed into me and I didn’t stop going back.

Wheelchair Rugby is a pretty incredible sport. It was originally termed “Murder Ball” because it’s high-speed, bumper wheelchairs with a ball. And as the sport grew and got more popular, they couldn’t get any sponsorship with a name like Murder Ball. They’d go to a doctor’s office: “We need money for uniforms. We play Murder Ball.” It didn’t work out. So they changed the name to Wheelchair Rugby, because it’s really just the roughest sport in comparison. But it has nothing to do with the gameplay of rugby, because rugby — I played that in college before my spinal cord injury and there were lineouts and scrums and all kinds of different setup that wouldn’t make sense in a wheelchair. So this is quite a bit different.

It’s really invigorating. The first time I went to a practice, they put me into one of the rugby chairs, and someone hit me and I was in love and I was just ready to come back. That contact is just incredible. And that being on a team and being a part of a sport and a strategy with other people and moving around, you forget. The barriers fall away, and you just become a part of something. And it’s invigorating to be out there just moving around. And then, if you do it well, that’s even better.

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