Kirk Williams' brave new world


Posted Mon, Mar 29, 2010

Last November, Kirk Williams took his mountain bike for a typical day out in the mountains. As an active skier, rock climber and swimmer, Williams was always outdoors and staying active. However, this day wasn’t like the rest.

Williams plunged forward and exploded his C3 vertebrae – the base of the neck. It paralyzed his hands and his legs. Yet since he’s been released from hospital care, he’s been coming to the Craig Hospital gym, which has been home to the Denver Harlequins Wheelchair Rugby team since they first started in 1988. It’s the only team of its kind in the state and one of the best in the nation.

In 2007, the team won a Division I National Championship and continuously place in the top three of regional tournaments. The team is old enough to have players retire and has had multiple players stay on as long as four to five years.

But for Williams, it’s only been three weeks. Getting into a rugby chair is a different feeling of freedom.

“It was like getting out of a Volkswagen Beetle and getting into a Ferrari,” Williams said. “It just turns effortlessly.”

The chairs can cost a player up to $6 thousand and some of the repair money and maintenance comes from personal finances. The best way to circumvent that problem?

“Find a welder,” jokes veteran teammate Adam Scaturro.

And repairs happen often. In a single practice, tires pop and wheels bend as players bulldoze one another.  The grime left on the wheels is a reminder of the furious and continuous turns a rugby player makes in a single minute. They strike and pound with full force, determined to stop the volleyball from advancing to the other side of the court.

Depending on a player’s physical ability, everyone is given a number ranging from .5 to 3.5. The lower the number, the less a player has control over their upper body.  The team must come up with a balanced group of players that reaches up to 8 points total.

The math juggling is not meant to leave anyone out – it was purposefully created so everybody plays. But ‘play’ can hardly sum up what happens in one of the 8-minute quarters. When the wheels are closer and the seat is lower, a lot more is at stake.

“It’s fun, it’s a blast,” said teammate Javi Madrid. Then he pauses and smirks, “It’s good to hit people again.”

Although they cannot physically touch each other, it doesn’t stop the players from slamming into one another. Jockeying for the right positions on the court, the competitive nature and confidence each player has intensifies every year they continue to play.

Denver ‘able-body’ Harlequin player and volunteer Dan Roder watched the transformation happen each time.  

“A couple of the guys, when the first come around, they don’t drive, they don’t leave their house,” Roder said. “Then they discover this sport for quadriplegics and … it’s a whole new culture. [They become] athletes, of course, in the most unlikely circumstances. For me, it’s like watching any rugby match.”

For newcomer Williams, that journey has only begun. Yet the fight he has already shown in the quick, 4-month recovery time deepened his competitive spirit for the game. Now, he looks forward to being part of the team and getting his wheels.

“You gotta earn your way into your own chair,” Williams said.

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One Response to “Kirk Williams' brave new world”

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