AQA

Finding my way with rugby

26.05.22 05:05 PM By Dan

A woman from Hobart describes her journey into wheelchair rugby, the impact it’s had on her recovery, and the supportive community she’s found.

Rubie says she was encouraged to try rugby while in rehab.

My name is Rubie, and I’m 26. Before my spinal cord injury in 2019, I had been living in France and Germany studying translation and working for a few years. I was visiting my parents with my boyfriend when I broke my C5 and C6 vertebrae in an awkward dive, in a river mouth on Bruny Island in Tasmania. 


For the nine months that I spent in hospital and rehab, my injury felt so overwhelming. A mix of losing my direction and my dreams, my sense of identity, and grief. That, and probably starting every morning with instant coffee and an hour or two on the toilet. 


A lot has changed in the two years since I’ve been home from hospital. I got married, and together we’ve started the planning for building a home, and I’m training and working as an illustrator. I’ve also got myself a good coffee machine, and learned about paralysis nutrition so that I don’t spend my mornings on the toilet!


In the two years since getting home from hospital, Rubie has got married and started planning the construction of a home.

I’ve been able to get back to playing sports and being active, which was and still is one of the most important parts of my rehab journey, and the rebuilding of my life.


When I first watched a wheelchair rugby training session, at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, I was feeling pretty weak and fragile. I had a neck brace early on in rehab, and I didn’t realise that this fast paced, intense game was something for people like me, or my level of injury. I saw a lot of strong, fast guys crashing with a lot of strength. As fun as it looked, I didn't really see myself being able to do that, still unable to push myself properly, and with a weak and wobbly neck. 


As I got stronger, I was encouraged by peer supporters and some players to try the chairs. By the time I was discharged to Hobart, I was super keen to play, and disappointed when I learned that there weren’t any teams playing wheelchair rugby in Tasmania. I love biking and practising yoga, but as a quadriplegic, I’m not able to play other para team sports like wheelchair basketball or AFL.

Getting out and active has been an important part of Rubie's rehab journey.

No team and no equipment is a pretty big barrier to trying and playing a sport, but even though I was living in a different state, I was given so much support to play. Between some players and coaches, peer supporters and the national pathways planner for wheelchair rugby, I’ve been able to try rugby, continue to play it, and now attempt to start a team here in Hobart


As well as that, everyone I’ve met playing has been super welcoming and encouraging. It’s an inclusive sport - being a mixed-gender sport, a game for different disabilities, and levels of disabilities - but also because of the supportive culture within the teams. 


Watching a lot of other players, I don’t feel like I’m very fast or strong, but there is still a role for me in the game because of the point system. Players are assigned point values based on functional ability, so low-pointers are players with less physical function, and high-pointers with more physical function, and every team needs both. 

Even though there are less women than men playing (probably also reflecting that more men than women acquire spinal cord injuries) there are women playing at all levels around the world. The total on-court value for each team is eight points, but the point system does encourage women to play, as teams with female players get an extra 0.5 point allowance. 


I’m still so new to the game, but I’ve rarely felt quite so encouraged and welcomed in a sport, before or after my accident. And I’ve never found a sport to have such an impact on other parts of my life. 


Having a spinal cord injury can come with a lot of difficulties, emotionally and physically. Because I still feel new to my body as a quadriplegic, training and playing has been the best way I’ve found to ‘reconnect’, and gain more confidence in my body, and what it can do. Getting my blood moving and some endorphins, playing, watching other players, and training have all made me so much stronger!

Author Rubie Gallagher has been living with a C5/6 spinal cord injury since 2019.

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