On Sunday, hundreds of military veterans in wheelchairs will gather in Civic Center Park to kick off the 30th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which are being hosted for the first time in Denver. Events include wheelchair basketball, weightlifting, trap shooting and quad rugby -- a fast-paced game so rough it was once called "murderball."
At 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, several quad rugby players -- including 28-year-old Iraq war veteran Robert Schuler of Colorado Springs -- will demonstrate the game, which is played in wheelchairs tricked out with solid metal wheels and bumpers. "It's similar rules to rugby, but it's actually adapted for wheelchair use," says VA spokeswoman Rebecca Sawyer Smith. "They don't throw anybody up in the air... but they huddle, they throw the ball, they grab it, they pass it."
Like all athletes at the Wheelchair Games, quad rugby players are grouped together on teams according to their "classification." An athlete's classification is a measure of his disability; for example, an athlete who has full function in both hands would be classified differently than one who doesn't. Age is also taken into account, so that WWII vets aren't competing against twenty-year-old men and women just returning from Iraq. "A lot of science and a lot of therapy go into this," Smith says.
The games will take place from Sunday to Friday and feature a total of seventeen events that will be hosted at several locations, including the Colorado Convention Center, City Park and Cherry Creek State Park. Click here for a full schedule. Admission is free, and Smith encourages folks to attend.
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"They love an audience," she says of the athletes. "These guys are challenged, so they need a little push, they need a little, 'Hey, go!' And they love the applause at the end."