Jeremy Finton would go through his accident again in a heartbeat if it meant he would get the opportunity to play rugby in a wheelchair.
Five years after his spinal cord injury, Finton discovered quad rugby in 2006. Once he began to work up the ambition to attend more practices regularly, he was hooked and officially became an Ohio Buckeye Blitz rugby player.
“Even though I’ve been playing for so long, I still don’t do things right,” Finton said. “It’s an ever-learning process. It’s also pretty fun getting to run into each other because you can’t go wrong with that.”
The Ohio Buckeye Blitz is a semi-professional quadriplegic rugby team based out of Columbus. Ohio University’s Quad Rugby student organization will be holding its 12th Battle the Blitz fundraiser for the team and will be raising more awareness for wheelchair sports Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at Ping Center.
In a standard game of wheelchair rugby, a player has a rugby ball in their lap that they’re trying to get into the end zone either by carrying it through or passing it to a teammate.
“It’s kind of like bumper cars in a way,” said Melanie Harvey, a graduate student studying physical therapy and the marketing chair for the OU Quad Rugby student organization. “You’re ramming your chair into other people just to get that ball into the end zone for a point.”
Many of the players were athletes before their injuries, so being able to play rugby has allowed them to still be active and have fun while playing, Harvey said.
“This fundraiser is probably the biggest one the Blitz does to raise money for their team,” Harvey said. “It costs so much for the Blitz to stay competitive each year, so the money raised goes toward new wheelchairs, repairs, travel costs and entry fees.”
The captain of the Blitz told Harvey it cost them about $17,000 last year to play competitively. Since wheelchair rugby is such a contact sport, the special wheelchairs used in games can cost up to $7,000, so the OU Quad Rugby student organization raises as much as they can with this event.
“Battle the Blitz is a big draw for physical therapy students,” Jonny Flowers, a graduate student studying physical therapy and the president of the OU Quad Rugby student organization, said. “But anyone across campus can pay to play against the Blitz in a game of wheelchair rugby.”
On top of that, the team really appreciates getting out education about what paralympic sports are and why they’re important, Flowers said.
Finton always has a blast when the Blitz comes to Athens because he loves exposing the physical therapy students to the game.
“We love the aggression and how much the students get into it and have a good time,” Finton said. “This is one of the biggest fundraisers for our team, so without their contributions and their willingness to do this for us, we wouldn’t be able to have a meaningful season to compete.”
Because the physical therapy students help put on this fundraiser for the Blitz, the team also gives back to the students.
“We want to help them become better therapists to help out others by exposing them to wheelchair rugby or other wheelchair related sports,” Finton said. “It helps them become better people and better physical therapists.”
Wheelchair rugby has given Finton a chance to be around other people with spinal cord injuries who have more or less function than he has, giving him different levels of appreciation for others like himself.
“I’ve learned how people deal with their personal stuff and how they’ve maneuvered through life, which has helped me grow beyond my own injury,” Finton said. “Yeah, you forge friendships and team sports dynamics, but for us, it’s a lot more learning from one another.”
Andrew Fox is a first-year Blitz player who has come to love the sport and has found many opportunities getting to work on a team.
“Quad rugby is so relatable to what I used to be able to do, which were actual sports like snowboarding and mountain biking, and that’s what I like most about it.” Fox said. “But the community surrounding it is even better because everybody has something that’s relatable.”
By playing the game, Fox’s physical abilities and daily transfers have improved and been made easier. He couldn’t be more stoked for the Battle the Blitz fundraiser Saturday.
“I try pretty hard because I’m a pretty competitive person,” Fox said. “Once I get on the court I don’t really like to get off, so this fundraiser is kind of an opportunity to stay on there as long as I possibly can and push myself further in the game.”