Thunderfest wheelchair rugby tournament returns to Grand Rapids after nearly two years

The tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. More than 50 athletes competed in a dozen matches with teams from across the country.

GRAND RAPIDS, Me – Thunderfest returned to Grand Rapids this weekend. In the wheelchair rugby tournament, teams from across the country competed in about a dozen games. This year’s event was held at the MSA Fieldhouse and was hosted by Mary Free Bed.

“There is a misnomer when you have a disability that you are fragile,” said Christy Vanhaver, Tournament Director. “It is really great for them to clash and feel the aggressiveness of a contact sport.”

According to the coach of the Grand Rapids Thunder team, wheelchair rugby is the only Paralympic sport designed specifically for wheelchair users. There is no suitable equivalent.

Wheelchair rugby, also known as “quad rugby” or “murder ball”, is a very high-contact sport. The players are constantly ramming their specially developed wheels into one another.

“This is a $ 7,000 titanium chair,” said Grand Rapids Thunder coach and player Nick Long, “it’s designed to take hits.”

Long said 19 years ago he jumped from a boat into shallow water and sustained injuries. A year later he found wheelchair rugby.

“The first time you get injured, things go downhill,” Long said, “and things that help you get up the hill.

Without a tournament last year due to the pandemic, Long said it was difficult to stay motivated to exercise. Now he said it was “great to get out and play again”.

Long shares his love of the sport with his teammates and encourages anyone who qualifies in adaptive sports to give it a try.

“I love seeing new players experience the impact of the sport literally and figuratively,” said Long. “It’s good to see someone come out and the freshly injured who can barely push their chair. Then two years later they are phenomenal and play on a national level.”

The Grand Rapids team finished fourth in the tournament at the weekend.

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