Spotlight On... Wheelchair Rugby

Gemma Lumsdaine

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!  

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.  

In the next part of the series, we spoke to two members of the GB wheelchair rugby development squadKieran Flynn and Gemma Lumsdaine.

The high-octane wheelchair rugby action is underway in Tokyo and the medals will be decided on Sunday.

Kieran and Gemma told us about their backgrounds in the sport and why it’s one to get involved with in the coming weeks and months!

Tell us about how you got into wheelchair rugby and your progression to where you are today 

KF: "I broke my neck in 2013, playing non-disabled rugby union. When I was in hospital, an ex-Paralympian came into the hospital with a spinal cord injury himself. He brought his chair in and I saw it but for me, I wasn't really interested. I went down to watch a session, I just wasn't ready in my rehab. 

"After about 18 months, I went down to train and then just went from there. I went to a tournament up in the North East and the GB development coach was there. I played in my first tournament and won Most Valuable Player. The coach said: ‘Why don't you take it seriously? You've really got a talent for this.’ 

"From there, I went to a Sheffield club training session, which the other GB talent coach runs and I got selected to the talent squad. I went to two tournaments and was vice-captain and I'm still in the talent squad, hoping to make the transition up to the elite squad."

GL: "I have cerebral palsy and it affects my limbs. Because of this, some of the basketball skills are quite difficult for me because they require good motor skills. So, it was recommended to me that I should try wheelchair rugby because wheelchair rugby is basically a sport designed for people who have impairment in three out of their four limbs. 

"I did a taster day in Dundee with my local wheelchair sports club called the Dundee Dragons and I really liked it. It’s fast-paced and tactical. 

"From there I started to play with a team in Glasgow and then in November 2017, I was lucky enough to be invited to trial for the GB development squad and I'm currently in that squad. My ultimate aim is to play wheelchair rugby at the highest level. 

Why rugby over other sports?  

KF: "It was as close to rugby union as I could get, and it's the mixture of tactics and physicality. But it's not just all about the power and the hitting, it's also the fact that no matter what disability you have, there's a role for you on the court. 

GL: "It's very unique in the fact that it doesn't matter about your level of impairment, everyone can make an impact. I also think sometimes people with disabilities are often wrapped up in cotton wool but in wheelchair rugby, it is a full-contact sport and people just smash each other!"

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

KF: "Just the impact it's had on my life. I was a keen sportsman growing up and played every sport as a kid, through my teenage years, but after my injury I put on a lot of weight. Since playing wheelchair rugby, I have lost eleven stone. The mental benefits and the benefits in independence being involved in that team atmosphere again are huge."

GL: "I think what has surprised me is just how much I love the sport and how dedicated I am. I live in the north of Scotland, so pretty much all the training and tournaments are at least seven hours away for me. "

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?  

KF: "My favourite memory is being selected as captain for the development squad for our two tournaments in Poland and in Germany in 2019." 

GL: "I think my favourite memory was when I was selected to represent the GB development squad at a tournament when we went to Germany. It was a huge honour for me to be able to represent the GB camp."

What's the best thing about wheelchair rugby 

KF: "It really brings to the forefront that people with disabilities can still play a contact sport, it can still be physical. Also, the strength of power - people get smashed out of the chair and they get straight back up and carry on playing."

GL: "I think the tactical element is the best. If you were watching wheelchair rugby, you would see the big hits but it’s like a game of chess. You are anticipating what a player is doing and how that will influence what the other players are doing."

What’s something only a wheelchair rugby player would know or appreciate? 

KF: "How hard some people hit! At first, people might find it intimidating, but it's inspiring that that's where you can get to." 

GL: "We now have a new appreciation of how much of an impact you can have on the court, I think it changes your perspective on disability."  

What would you say to someone considering trying wheelchair rugby? 

KF: "Just go into it with an open mind. Don't be put off that you might be the slowest or you might be the weakest because that strength and that power are going to come to you. If you persevere with it, the sport will have a massive impact on your life both off the court and on the court." 

GL: "Just give it a go, everyone is nervous and we have all been a beginner. Even the guys who are in Tokyo have all had to try a sport for the first time."

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give wheelchair rugby a try? Check out our club finder!