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25 November 2014

Doctors get firsthand experience playing Wheelchair Rugby

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation held their Annual Assembly in San

Diego, CA from November 13-16. Nearly 3,000 physiatrists with specialties in spinal cord injury/disease, sports medicine and rehabilitative medicine from around the world gathered for a weekend of lectures, exhibitions and networking. The theme of this year’s conference was “A Focus on Function Through Exercise” and Paralympic and adaptive sport was highlighted throughout the weekend.


One of the most popular events of the conference was a speech by Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. Along with several other Paralympic athletes, including USA Wheelchair Rugby’s Andy Cohn, Craven stressed the importance of sport as rehabilitation, telling the physicians in attendance, “I believe that your role is to help an individual to get back to where they were before a major interruption occurred in their lives, and even for them to go further in the future.”


And what better way to do that than to let the doctors experience it for themselves? With the help of

Tournament staff and coaches preparing for the fun to begin.

Kelli Kaliszewski, Tom Vesco of Vesco Metal Craft and members of the San Diego Sharp Edge Wheelchair Rugby team, Dr. Kenneth Lee conducted a three-day tournament for the able-bodied attendees to hop in a chair and play some rugby.


Over 50 people signed up to play on eight teams, going through elimination play over the three days with modified rules. The play was slow and awkward the first day as the doctors tried to figure out how to push their chairs, dribble the ball and not catch their fingers in the wheels. Competition began to heat up on day two as teams were eliminated, and by day three the hits were hard, the goals were faster and the players actually spent some time on the ground.  


Whistles, crashing metal and raucous cheering aren’t normally found at these expos, so the rugby

corner drew quite the crowd. For many, this was their first exposure to wheelchair rugby, and both spectators and players gained a newfound appreciation for the skill and knowledge required to play the game.

Some of the participants getting their first introduction to

It was a positive and eye-opening experience in awareness and education for the doctors and medical students, and one that they will take back to their patients and their practices. Discussions are already underway to host a similar event at the Annual Assembly in Boston next autumn.


This was a fantastic opportunity for our sport to reach a larger audience while giving the participants an idea of what it is actually like to play a wheelchair sport. Other club teams have used these as fundraisers, offering sponsors and donors the opportunity to put together teams to compete against each other with actual wheelchair rugby members as their coaches.


If you are interested in learning more about the logistics of hosting a similar event, please contact Carolyn Odom at