By Robert Mingolelli
I must admit wheelchair rugby is a sport I have never observed. Recently, a group of wheelchair athletes were working out on the tennis courts at the GDRHS.
When asked if they were exercising and did they mind if I watched, “No worries,” replied Dunstable resident Ben Goss, a Groton-Dunstable alum who graduated from Arizona State in 2018. “We all have spinal cord injuries and compete on a wheelchair rugby team.” You can imagine my surprise when I heard that!
Working through drills with Ben were Northeast Passage Wildcats teammates Adam Ellis, Eric Ferrazzani and Mike Whitehead.
“Being able to compete on the rugby team and the camaraderie is so important,” said Goss.
The Northeast Passage Wildcats was formed with the Maine (Casco Bay Navigators) and Massachusetts (Boston Pit Bulls) teams to create Northern New England’s only competitive quad rugby team. Northeast Passage, in cooperation with the University of New Hampshire, has developed a unique opportunity for competitive athletes with disabilities to train and attend college as student athletes.
Ben, now 24, lost the use of his legs after a car accident several years ago and you can imagine his thoughts about never being able to get his license and be independent.
Thanks to the Travis Roy Foundation, Ben became the owner of an adapted Toyota truck that allowed him to drive to and from Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, physical therapy, and his friends’ homes.
“The special wheel chair and truck were game changers for me,” shared Ben. “It took me a while to figure out my life after the accident. But I found that if you stay focused on what is important and are determined, you can do pretty much what you need and want to do.”
Many of you may have heard of Travis Roy who as a 20 year old was injured in the opening minutes of his first college hockey game as a freshman at Boston University in 1995. His injuries left him paralyzed from the neck down. Two years after the accident, Roy established his foundation, which is dedicated to research and one-on-one assistance for spinal injury cases.
Since its launch in 1997, the Travis Roy Foundation has awarded more than $4 million to provide adaptive equipment for people with spinal-cord injuries and for research.
Wheelchair rugby, originally called murderball due to its aggressive, full-contact nature, is known as quad rugby in the United States. This paralympic event is a team sport for athletes with a disability and is practiced during the summer in over twenty-five countries around the world. To participate, all wheelchair rugby players must have disabilities that include at least some loss of function in at least three limbs. Most have spinal cord injuries. Players may also qualify with multiple physical and neurological disorders or other medical issues.
The sport is played indoors on a hardwood court, and physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game. The rules include elements from wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball and rugby.
Ben and the Northeast Passage Wildcats team practice weekly at the University of New Hampshire during the fall and winter seasons, and compete in local, regional and national tournaments. An annual tournament at the UNH and other events increase awareness of the sport as well help support the team financially.
Benefits of regular play include increased strength, endurance and independence. Both on and off the court, this program fosters camaraderie, physical fitness and leadership opportunities for all involved.
Ben presently works on the family farm in Dunstable and also takes time to visit patients in area hospitals who have experienced similar life changing events.
“Visiting hospitals and speaking to those who are in the same position I was in is a win/win. For me, doing something very useful/ important and, for the patients, hopefully I’m bringing some comfort, understanding and inspiration. You can do whatever you want with determination and focus.”