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Fish Insurance takes silver at the Wheelchair Rugby Experience

It’s dubbed ‘murderball’ thanks to its high-speed, full contact metal-on-metal aggression, and it was recently described by The Mayor of London as “one of the most terrifying and exhilarating sports on the planet.” So it was with some trepidation that Fish Insurance’s team of eight players arrived at London’s Olympic Park to play wheelchair rugby for the first time.

We were there to take part in the Spinal Injuries Association’s Wheelchair Rugby Experience, a one-day event to increase awareness of spinal cord injury and raise funds to support the charity. Just a week earlier, the world’s best teams had competed in the same arena, the Copper Box, as part of the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge. Anyone who saw the televised games will know it’s a fierce sport which combines strength and tactics… and players smashing into one another at speed.

This was one of the things that attracted Steve Brown, who captained the GB Paralympic team at London 2012, to the sport. “When you’re spinal cord injured, people don’t expect you to go around smashing into each other and knocking people out of wheelchairs. And that’s one of the reasons why I love wheelchair rugby,” he explained.

Steve opened the event by telling us about his journey, from first becoming spinal cord injured after falling off a balcony to receiving the call to say he was being made wheelchair rugby captain. It was a story of highs and lows, but his sense of humour and passion for sport put the teams at ease, while offering an awareness of what it’s like to receive a life-changing spinal injury. We also heard from some of the charity’s other volunteers who shared their own experiences and answered our questions. It was clear that support from the Spinal Injuries Association has been invaluable to many, as has the work carried out at Stoke Mandeville Hospital (which has the UK’s largest spinal injuries unit) and other hospitals like it.

Next we took to the court, where Steve and some of his fellow players took us through key skills and taught us the rules of wheelchair rugby. Often described as “chess with violence”, teams are made up of four players who must pass the ball through the goalposts to score, passing or bouncing the ball every 10 seconds. Aggressive tackles and smashing into other players are encouraged.

Before long it was time for the main event, and after a quick team tactics talk we faced our first opponent, Hasla Care Group. It was a shaky start from our team, The Preston Piranhas, and we conceded our first point in the first ten seconds. Not to be deterred, we fought back and at the final whistle we were the proud winners with a score of 6-1.

Our second opponent was Network Rail – last year’s winners and the “team to beat.” We gave it our best in a closely-fought game but the “Railers” emerged victorious with a score of 5-4.

We won our next games against Easy Jet, Bush Group and Bullen Healthcare, but suffered a last minute defeat at the hands of the SIA. We must have been doing something right though, as the presentation ceremony over a supper of fish and chips revealed we’d placed second overall – not bad for our first time.

Overall, we had a brilliant time and learnt a lot. Wheelchair Rugby is so much fun and exciting both to watch and play and it was great to meet volunteers from the SIA and hear their stories. We’ll be sure to be back again next year and we’ve got our eyes on first place – watch out Network Rail!

Thanks to the Spinal Injuries Association, volunteers and the other teams who took part for what was a fantastic day at a very worthwhile event.

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