Wheelchair Rugby is a mixed team sport for male and female quadriplegic athletes. Wheelchair Rugby players compete in manual wheelchairs specifically designed for the sport. Players must meet minimum disability criteria. Wheelchair Rugby is a Paralympic sport, with twenty-six countries competing in international competition and more than ten others developing national programs. Amy Fitzpatrick is a well known player in Ireland, is a Happiness is Egg Shaped Follower and took time to answer our questions about this amazing sport…
What do you need for a game for Wheelchair Rugby?
For wheelchair rugby, firstly you need a specially made chair. These can range from 5000 Euros to 7500 Euros. Most players get their chairs from USA or New Zealand. Gloves, tape, chest strap, legs strap, hip strap and a cushion are needed to set you up to be safely in you chair. Spare tubes for the tyres are also needed.
A squad has up to 12 players per team.
How is Wheelchair Rugby growing? How has the Paralympics helped?
Wheelchair rugby started in Ireland in 1997 in Dublin. Ireland have now got four clubs and a national team. There are over 40 players in Ireland. Wheelchair rugby became a Paralympic sport in 2000, after being a demo sport in Atlanta 1996. The growth of the sport worldwide has been huge, with over 50 countries playing the game.
What attracted you to it?
The speed, the team work and the energy is what attracted me to this game. It’s like football, but not really haha!
What happened and who encouraged you to get so passionate about rugby?
I was into lots of sports but football was my main love. Over the years, I started suffering with injuries and had to stop playing. In 2010 I headed to Tasmania, Australia and realised over there that something was just not right with my body. When I came back to Ireland, I had tests done and after a very long time of waiting, I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease. It’s an aggressive form and I ended up using a wheelchair quicker than the medics thought I would. Muscular dystrophy is from birth, but I was 27 when I was diagnosed. Fatigue, weakness, dropping things, not being able to climb stairs, had a terrible walk, couldn’t run. This is why I had to stop playing sports but back then, I didn’t have a clue, nor did my family. I am the only one in my family with it. I also have neck issues and nerve damage so I’m kind of a liquorice all sort! In 2012, there was a Paralympic open day in Dublin, and I went along. I ended up coming away from that to go play table tennis. That didn’t last long! The coach for Wheelchair Rugby was a guy I went to school with, so I rang him and he said to try it out. So I did, and that was that…. HOOKED!!
What are the main challenges facing players and clubs?
A lot of people have never heard of wheelchair rugby, and we are constantly trying to highlight our sport.
The main issue we come across is funding. We get very little funding for chairs and equipment so we go and do bucket collections, bag packing days, literally begging for any spare change possibly! My club travel to the UK at least 5 times a year, and we must self-fund. Once a year we go to Germany for a massive European tournament and that is costly. Again, self funded. I have been blessed that my family and friends all contribute to what I need, as well as myself.
You have had many challenges to overcome, how did you do this and what have learned?
The biggest challenge for me was getting out of my own head. I went into deep depression with having to use a wheelchair. It’s not just the chair, its adapting to a “new life”. I refused to leave the house, I refused to let anyone see me like that. My mam said to me one day, if you want to go to see the Ireland game, you are going to have to get in the chair! That was it basically, if I wanted to get out, then I needed to become friends with the wheelchair. There are still days that I get frustrated with life as a cripple, but ask anyone who uses a chair, it happens to all of us.
What do you think the future is for Wheelchair Rugby?
The future for wheelchair rugby is huge, but only if you push it and believe. The rugby family is massive and we all desire to see our sport grow and grow, and to the kids who play, they are the future stars.
Who or what gives you inspiration?
My mam. she has been my rock, my best friend. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. Going through her own health issues, but still managing to kick my ass. Also, my partner Holly. She makes me so proud. She’s in performing arts, and works full time, and it amazes me how deadly she is and also the fact that she doesn’t see me in a chair. She sees me, for me.
Eggs – scrambled, poached or boiled?
Oh god, all the above!
Is your Happiness is Egg Shaped?
Thank you to Amy for a really insightful interview into another branch of this amazing Rugby Family. We wish Amy and everyone involved in Wheelchair Rugby every success for the future.
For more information, check out the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation Website.