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Local man’s passion sport has international acclaim

Wheelchair rugby now played in 40 countries

Athletes playing wheelchair rugby. Photo by Joshua Rey
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Reported by Joshua Rey

Duncan Campbell never thought messing around with friends in a gym would lead to the creation of a Paralympic sport.

Campbell, who became a quadriplegic after diving accident, created wheelchair rugby with some friends at a small gym in Winnipeg in 1976. They wanted to play a sport other than wheelchair basketball, so they came up with the idea for wheelchair rugby. The name they originally came up with was ‘murderball’.

“It just started with me and some of my friends who were also quadriplegics,” Campbell said. “At the time, people like us could only play wheelchair basketball. We were in a gym playing it, and we started to fool around and the idea just came about.”

From a Winnipeg gym to the Paralympics

Over the years it has grown into a worldwide sport, and became an official sport at the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

“I never thought wheelchair rugby would be this successful at the time. It has expanded to 40 countries and the wheelchairs are more suitable for the game than before,”

Duncan Campbell, Team BC mentor and recruiter and creator of wheelchair rugby

Campbell, who recruits and mentors players for Team BC, which finished in 6th place at the annual Vancouver Invitational earlier this month at the Richmond Oval, said there was little challenge in creating the sport.

“Some people thought that any wheelchair sport should have an able-body counterpart,” he said. “It was a blockade but it didn’t last long.”

Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hard floor court in teams of four. Using a volleyball instead of a rugby ball, the wheelchair sport has a lot of physical contact. The forward pass is allowed, unlike in rugby where players can only pass backwards.

Campbell said he is happy to see how much the sport has developed and how the equipment has adapted to better help the players perform.

“I never thought wheelchair rugby would be this successful at the time,” Campbell said. “It has expanded to 40 countries and the wheelchairs are more suitable for the game than before.”

‘An inspiration to everyone’

Nathan Bragg, communications coordinator with the BC Wheelchair Sports Association, said he admires Campbell very much for his constant dedication and support.

“Duncan is an amazing guy,” Bragg said. “Without him, myself and others wouldn’t be where we are today. He is always involved with the sport and community, and gives back.”

Joel Ewert, a wheelchair rugby player for Team BC also has a lot of respect for Campbell, and is grateful he was recruited by him.

“Duncan is an inspiration to everyone,” Ewert said. “He taught us that your little idea could make a big impact on people.”

Campbell hopes the sport will grow even more.

“I hope the game keeps expanding,” he said. “I also hope it continues to bring people with disabilities together.”


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