If you haven’t seen Wheelchair Rugby, you’re missing a tremendous spectacle. Not an incredible spectacle of ‘a dinosaur, doing the can-can on the top of a flaming Eiffel Tower’ proportions, but something good to watch nonetheless. The speed, the power and relentless work-rate – it would certainly have you question how some other more high-profile sports eclipse it for mainstream attention.
The Irish Wheelchair Rugby team are competing in the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation 2015 European Division A Championship in Finland this week and it’s a great time to start following their progress. They qualified through the B Championship last April and now the Wheels In Green get to test themselves against the best teams in the world.
The players have arrived in their current situations through a variety of ways. Some from birth, some through tragic accidents later in life. All of them very saddening and likely to have our instinctive ‘ah bless – aren’t they great?’ muscle twitching.
But dwelling on the past and receiving sympathetic comments aren’t want the players want. They want support. They want you to take an interest in their sport. They want recognition for their dedication, athleticism and achievements in representing Ireland. Much like our natural instinct is to empathise, their natural instinct is to bounce back, refuse to accept the role of the victim and challenge themselves to be all they can be.
That’s why Paddy Power are delighted to announce our partnership with the Irish Wheelchair Rugby team. Having spoken to these players on several occasions, what comes across is their selflessness and dedication. Yes, the money they get from the deal will improve training facilities and help them compete in international competitions. There may even be some personal glory. But what is more important to them is showing that life doesn’t end with a wheelchair. To the those people who will suffer similar misfortunes in the future, it’s about showing them that there are avenues open to challenge yourself and overcome incredible difficulties.
In an attempt to get to know these remarkable athletes without recounting sad stories, here’s the top 10 things that piss them off most when meeting some well-intentioned but misguided members of the public:
#1 When people say, “oh you’re a great fella”. Thanks, you’re a great fella too. No wait, you’re a dickhead. Even though you’re in a wheelchair, we live normal lives. A complete stranger telling us we’re great is disingenuous.
#2 There was one time I was in a restaurant with my friend. The waiter took my friend’s order and just as I was about to give mine, he asked my friend ‘’and what would she like?’’ pointing to me as if I was unable to speak for myself! Sadly, it’s common enough that some people assume if you have a physical disability, then you’ve also got an intellectual one. That’s just ignorance.
#3 I’ve been asked to move in pubs by staff because I’m taking up too much space or I’m ‘in the way’. Sorry – what if I hold in my breath – is that any better?
#4 Complete strangers often grab my chair and start pushing me around without first asking. I don’t need to be pushed and this is a massive invasion of my personal space. If I’m on a dance floor, people will often try to grab the back of my chair and spin me around. Our chairs are very finely balanced, so this has often resulted in my chair tipping over and with me on the floor. That’s not a great dance move.
#5 Comments like ‘fair play to you for getting out there’. We put in hours and hours of hard work in the gym every week. We would consider our sport the same as any other sport in that we train hard to improve ourselves and do better. But some people see us as just doing something to get us out of the house instead. As if ‘Oh thanks. You know, it was either represent my country in international sport or watch another episode of Judge Judy!’
#6 People getting the wrong idea and think that you are in the Special Olympics. I’ve great respect for what those people are doing, but what we do is very different. Plus, it’s Wheelchair Rugby, not Wheelchair Basketball. If I stick you in the chair for 30 seconds you’ll quickly notice the difference.
#7 I was travelling over to the UK on my own and the Reduced Mobility Assistant tried to move everything and everyone out of my way! I was beetroot red with the mortification. I’m well capable of getting around and having crowds parting like the red sea was mega-embarrassing and made me look like a right knob!
#8 The biggest pain can be patting you on the head as If your some sort of pet or five year old kid. It can be quite degrading. And annoying when I’ve spent ages doing my hair.
#9 I often get handshakes from people and told it’s great to see you out. Another is I’m told I’m inspirational when people don’t know me.
#10 A lot of people think we all want to walk again but it never crosses my mind. The wheelchair has made a huge amount of unbelievable things achievable, and is a huge part of all my goals. I’m fine not walking again but I want to do as much as I can with my wheelchair.
So there you have it. If you happen to encounter one of the Wheels In Green, avoid making some of the above faux pas and you’ll get along just fine. By all means talk to them about smashing people, the immense levels of training that goes into it and maybe even make some awkward small talk about the weather, but avoid telling them they’re inspirational – even if you do feel a bit inspired.
- If you want to keep tabs on the team’s progress, there’s live streaming available at WREC2015.fi and IWRF.com will give you the schedule for the week ahead.
- For more specific news on the progress of Ireland’s team, check out www.irishwheelchairrugby.com or follow @WheelsInGreen on Twitter.