Expo Introduces Veterans to Paralympic Sports
HOUSTON, Texas - The sound of the wheelchairs crashing together rivals that of a gunshot - a loud and sudden smack that grabs the attention of anyone in earshot. The bloody knees and absolute ferocity of some competitors is also stunning.
The sport's official name is Quad Rugby, but many still call it by a less PC, yet still understandable, name: Murderball.
The loud crashing sounds echoed through the George R. Brown Convention Center Saturday, folding into the cacophony at the city's first "Metal & Muscle Expo," organized to introduce disabled veterans to paralympic sports.
"This is really important for our local veterans to come and link up with people who have this excitement for these competitive outlets," said Buddy Grantham, director of Houston's Office of Veterans Affairs. "They see the potential this can have to move them forward and offer them the same thing that drew them to the military."
Saturday's expo, which city officials said will become an annual event, featured a wide array of sports: wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, judo for the blind, air gun shooting, power soccer, racing and a challenge course.
The competitions were hosted by the city's Parks and Recreation Department and funded by a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Paralympic Military Program with funds that were seeded by the Department of Defense. Houston was one of only seven cities out of 150 that applied that received the money, said Peggy Turner, the division manager for adaptive recreation at the parks department.
The expo is the first of four elements of "Operation Houston Four Star," a program aimed at helping disabled veterans, Turner said. The second phase will feature water sports, such as skiing and kayaking. The third will add training at the city's Adaptive Recreation Center at 1475 West Gray, and the fourth will assist veterans with networking and resource programs.
Turner, who has attended the worldwide Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, said she hopes the activities will bind the community of disabled veterans in Houston.
"I know that this city, as big as it is, there's so much potential here," Turner said.
Camaraderie is what brought Chris Post to Quad Rugby. After losing both legs and some function in his arms in a diving accident, the former sailor began to play the rough and tumble game, which incorporates rules from hockey and soccer.
"It makes things a lot easier when you can be with people who have gone through a similar problem," said Post, 28, who competes with the Houston Texans team and travels all over the country. "I would feel isolated in the world if I didn't have my wheelchair friends."
For Army Spc. Curtis Johnson, an Alabama native, paralympic sports have been his first foray into competitive athletics.
Johnson lost his legs in May after a roadside bomb exploded as he cleared a path for a convoy. Since then, he's spent most of his recovery at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
He learned to play sitting volleyball on Fridays, a day of the week generally reserved for recreation amid long rounds of physical therapy and workouts Monday through Thursday.
"I love competing, and events like these are such a good idea," he said. "It takes you out to meet other people in your situation. These people here, they're heroes to me. When you see them, it's easy to look at them and see that they do not have any disabilities."