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ODU Student Hopes to go to Paralympics in Quad Rugby

If you've never seen wheelchair, or quad rugby played, the captain of Virginia's only team describes it like this:

"It basically looks like bumper cars with wheelchairs," said Eric Ingram, an Old Dominion University mechanical engineering student from Norfolk, who hopes to compete in the 2012 Paralympics in London. "It's kill the man with the ball."

Ingram co-founded the East Coast Cripplers, a local quad rugby team that has qualified for the Division 2 national championships in the sport. He and a friend, frustrated wheelchair basketball players, saw a demonstration a few years ago, and decided to form a team on the spot.

Four years later, the team is one of the best in the eastern United States, and will compete in the Atlantic Sectionals March 13-15 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Ingram was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, which is a rare congenital disorder that results in a variety of symptoms, from scoliosis, to muscle contractions, to severe mobility restrictions.

He hopes to get his master's in aerospace engineering from ODU after finishing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Between his studies and workouts for the quad rugby team, the 19-year-old freshman keeps very busy.

The object of quad rugby is for a team of four participants, all with different levels of physical disability, to carry a ball over the end line on a basketball court within 40 seconds, by creating elaborate offensive plays, and rolling like crazy when there's an opportunity to score.

"It's very physically demanding, and requires a lot of training," said Ingram, who lifts arm weights, does stretches, and wheels around in a weighted chair to prepare for the physical workout that quad rugby demands.

The sport has exploded in popularity. Ingram said there are more than 500 players nationwide, with more joining every week. "It's the fastest-growing wheelchair sport right now."

Quad rugby was featured in the 2005 film "Murderball," which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

One source, sadly, of new recruits is America's wounded soldiers. Ingram said his team does a demonstration at the veteran's hospital in Richmond every year, and found one of its current team members this way.

"It definitely gets them back into an active lifestyle," Ingram said of the disabled vets. "They often think they're lost after they get injured. This gets them into something active and positive, and helps them feel better."

Ingram hopes his team can earn as spot at nationals in the upcoming meet. But his long-term goal is to be on that 2012 paralympic team. Ingram said he was one spot away from getting an invitation to USA Quad Rugby's tryouts for the 2008 paralympic team.

"There are a ton of good players out there. I just have to keep working hard and hope I get the opportunity," he said.

The team is having a fund-raiser March 8 at Knuckleheads in Virginia Beach for their upcoming trip to sectionals. Ingram's real desire is to continue to promote the sport. He urges anyone interested in trying out quad rugby, or even watching it played, to contact him at murderballplayer@gmail.com.


This article was posted on: February 23, 2009

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