Murderball Is The Toughest Sport You've Never Heard Of

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This topic is the third in a three-part series, presented by Rowheels, on the science of life in a wheelchair. Rowheels is reinventing the wheelchair with their patented reverse "pull" propulsion system, which curbs injuries associated with traditional "push" wheeling.

When you think about Paralympic sports, you probably imagine events identical to the Olympics but altered, maybe even made easier, to ensure people with disabilities can compete. That's a common misconception—many disabled athletes compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics and outperform their able-bodied peers, no special accommodations required—and its absurdity is perhaps best symbolized by a single brutal sport: wheelchair rugby, which also goes by its original name of murderball.

Related: This NASA Engineer Has Revolutionized The Wheelchair

The Most Exciting Game You've Never Seen

The sport was conceived in the late 1970s by a group of five quadriplegic athletes in Canada. Wheelchair basketball was big at the time, but because it requires players to be able to dribble and shoot the ball, it prevented athletes with limited function of their hands and arms from playing the game. Duncan Campbell, one of the sport's founders, recalled in a reddit AMA, "The whole reason that wheelchair rugby was invented was because there were so few options for team sports...and many people, including me, need a place to be called a gym rat."

Related: The Everyday Science Of Wheelchair Life

The technical details are pretty straightforward. The sport is co-ed, combines elements of rugby, basketball, and handball. A rotating roster of 12 players puts four on each side at any one time, who compete in a space the size of a basketball court. To play, you have to have limited function of both your upper and lower limbs—players' levels of disability are classified on a point system to ensure an even playing field.

"PC Gone Completely Right"

But it's the real-world experience that makes this game so thrilling. There's a reason it's called murderball, after all. When the game begins, the arena explodes in a deafening clamor as players smash their specially reinforced wheelchairs into one another to keep the other team from scoring. For spectators, it's one of the most popular Paralympic events: in 2012, the 12,000-seat arena sold out for every match. "I think people genuinely want to come and watch us smash each other out of our wheelchairs," British wheelchair-rugby player Aaron Phipps told The Guardian. "It's like PC gone completely right."

Of course, rugby isn't the only wheelchair sport out there—there are plenty of activities for wheelchair athletes that don't have "murder" in their name. Wheelchair basketball is just as popular as it was when Campbell and his friends conceived of their spinoff sport, and other court- and field-based games such as tennis, soccer, football, and baseball also have wheelchair leagues. There are also many pursuits for lone wolves: wheelchair motocross, mountain biking, and surfing give a rush of adrenaline with no team required.

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Paralympic Sports

Murderball: Wheelchair Rugby Shows How Tough It Can Be

Goalball: Blindfold Paralympic Reverse Dodgeball

Former Paralympian Aimee Mullins Is Not Disabled

Written by Ashley Hamer February 26, 2017
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