Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates the outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The U.S. National Wheelchair Rugby Team won Team of the Month for June 2018, following its win at the International Wheelchair Rugby Canada Cup. In the team’s Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, players Adam Scaturro and Chuck Melton share how they use rest and recovery to endure in the grueling sport.
Of course Adam Scaturro has felt his head snap back and then jerk forward after absorbing a jarring hit to his wheelchair.
He’s a veteran of a sport that has been nicknamed “murderball.”
As a former high school quarterback and wrestler before suffering a broken neck, Scaturro was attracted to wheelchair rugby, in part, because of the physical contact. He enjoyed delivering hits on the court.
However, now that Scaturro is almost 40, he knows what to do when he sees an opposing player barreling toward him: he turns his wheelchair, so his wheel absorbs more of the blow than his 5-foot-10, 143-pound frame.
“It’s all about being smarter at an older age because once you take those hits and you’ve suffered that whiplash effect over the years, you want to limit that as much as possible,” Scaturro said.
To make it through the grind of international competition, Scaturro and other members of the U.S. wheelchair rugby team must be cautious and use new techniques that help their bodies quickly recover.
Chuck Melton competes at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
After all, they’re excelling in a sport in which shoulder injuries are common and a collision between players can resemble a car crash.
Games are played on a basketball court, use a volleyball and include all the physical contact of traditional rugby.
The physical toll is perhaps best summed up by a motivational quote that Chuck Melton, another veteran on the U.S. national team, has memorized. He sometimes makes the quote the wallpaper on his cell phone:
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the work you already did.”
“That’s where an elite athlete has to dig in and be able to push past whatever pain or soreness and tired you might be feeling and find that extra level,” Melton said, explaining his favorite quote.
“To just dig deep in and find a way to push your body and not doing it in a way you’re going to hurt yourself.”
The second-ranked Americans won all six of their games over four days in June to win the International Wheelchair Rugby Canada Cup, a prestigious tournament held in British Columbia. With such a quick turnaround between games, Melton and his teammates had to prioritize rest and recovery.
One tool the U.S. athletes relied on was a compression sleeve made by NormaTec that looks like a big sock when it’s covering their arms. Each sleeve is attached to a machine that cycles air through it, stretching the players’ arms and helping their bodies recovery after games.
“There are all kinds of settings. You can do a couple of minutes at a certain level or 20-30 minutes at a higher level,” said the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Melton, who turns 40 next month.
“It just kind of depends on how you’re feeling and what your body needs.”
The American players have also started traveling with resistance bands that stretch their shoulders and back muscles.
Helping them along the way, the U.S. national team staff includes a sports nutritionist, a sports psychologist, a medical coordinator and a strength-and-conditioning coordinator.
They also practice using their chairs to absorb contact.
“It’s chair-to-chair contact. It’s not body-to-body contact, so we can limit our injuries more than say football or some other sports,” Scaturro said.
Starting with team tryouts in the winter, the Americans can compete in wheelchair rugby games from March through the world championships in August.
Adam Scaturro competes at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
At 39, Scaturro said he feels his body can recover faster than it did when he was in his mid-20s. One reason for that: he’s taking better care of his body. Scaturro dropped 24 pounds, mostly by cutting dairy out of his diet. He’s also stretching more, getting massages and doing range-of-motion exercises.
Players also increase their protein intake, often drinking a protein shake after a training session.
“Now that I’m older I realize I can’t do all the things that I did when I was younger in terms of eat whatever I wanted to or stay up late,” Scaturro said. “So it’s more or less being smarter and doing things correctly.”
One month after winning the Canada Cup, the Americans are done celebrating and have gathered at the Lakeshore Foundation’s U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site in Birmingham, Alabama.
They’re taking part in a training camp in preparation for the world championships, which take place in Sydney. They often practice twice a day, sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time, and review film during their breaks.
“The recovery takes a little bit longer now obviously from the time I first made the team in 2012 till now because I’m six years older,” Melton said. “But at the same time, my training has paralleled that to where I train smarter. I train harder even.
“… If I do have a little bit of soreness, I can push through it.”