When Will Groulx made his Paralympic debut in Athens back in 2004, he was a 30-year-old single guy and admitted he was “just happy to be there with the team.”
He was married the following year and then in 2008, he found himself in Beijing. His motivation then was to help the U.S. wheelchair rugby team improve from a bronze-medal performance in Athens. He and his teammates did just that, claiming a gold medal.
This time around, with the Paralympic Games in London, Groulx is in a much different place. He is 38 and the veteran of the 12-man U.S. squad, and he is the father of twins, who will turn 3 in November.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile, “things have changed a bit.”
Groulx (pronounced “grew”) is in London to compete in the only full-contact wheelchair sport. The U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team started competition Wednesday with a 56-44 win over the host country Great Britain.
Wheelchair rugby isn’t quite rugby per se, but uses a mixture of rules from rugby, hockey and basketball. And Groulx, who has enjoyed working with some of the younger players on the team leading up to these Games, said he is enjoying the balance between competing and his family life.
Typically, when the team is preparing for a major event, such as the world championships or the Paralympic Games (the London Games are Aug. 29-Sept. 9), he will train five to six days a week with two-a-day sessions. The training during these peak times can be 40 hours per week. Plus, he said, the coaches give the players homework which involves reviewing video and analyzing trends from other teams.
Yet Groulx, who lives in the Portland, Ore., area with his family, makes sure his schedule includes family time.
“My full-time job now is training for rugby and being a dad,” Groulx said. “I have twins and so where before I used to juggle everything around my training schedule, now I juggle everything around my kids’ schedule.”
His twins, named Will and Grace (and, no, Groulx said with a laugh, “that’s not after the TV show”; it’s Will as in Will Arthur Groulx the V and Grace as in Grace Catherine), are busy with all sorts of activities, ranging from soccer to basketball. Groulx wife, Amy, played soccer, and with both parents involved in sports at a high level (Will Groulx earned a college scholarship in volleyball), the household can be quite competitive.
“It’s competitive as heck,” he said, “even when it’s a game of Monopoly or Scrabble.”
Groulx was born in South Korea but raised in Clarksville, Tenn., where he loved playing football and volleyball. He dreamed of joining the U.S. Navy and traveling the world. He spent six years in active duty as a petty officer second class and was an engineer. But a motorcycle accident in 2001 which resulted in a spinal cord injury changed those plans. He underwent rehabilitation at through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and that is where he learned about the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the sport of wheelchair rugby.
The sport, which was developed in Canada in the 1970s, is a physically grinding game with athletes allowed to contact each other with their chairs, but not their bodies. Groulx not only plays for the national team, but he also plays for the Portland Pounders, a wheelchair rugby team that plays from October through April and finished second in the country this past season. One of Groulx’s Portland teammates is Seth McBride, who also is in London for the Paralympic Games. There are about 40 wheelchair rugby teams in the country.
Four members of the national champion team, from Tucson, Ariz., are Groulx’s teammates on the U.S. Paralympic Team: Chuck Aoki, Chad Cohn, Derrick Helton and Aaron Roux.
Groulx is hoping to bring home another Paralympic gold medal for Team USA, which has won two of the last Paralympic wheelchair rugby titles since 2000. He is not sure what his own future holds following London, but is pleased with where the sport is heading.
“We have a great group of new, young guys, and they are making the decisions tougher and tougher for our coach,” Groulx said. “We’ve had great growth in our sport. And I feel when I leave, I will be leaving the sport in good hands.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.