Warrior Games Add Wheelchair Rugby as a Medal Sport

With less than 100 days until the Warrior Games, the branches have begun trials with some receiving assistance from familiar faces of the USA Wheelchair Rugby team.

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For the very first time, wheelchair rugby will be added as a competitive sport for the Warrior Games which take place this June in Tampa, Florida. US participating athletes will represent the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command. With less than 100 days until the games, the branches have begun trials with some receiving assistance from familiar faces of the USA Wheelchair Rugby team.

According to the Wounded Warriors Website, the Warrior Games was established in 2010 as a way to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, ill and injured service members and expose them to adaptive sports. The USA branches mentioned above, as well as athletes from the U.K. Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force, and the Canadian Armed Forces, will participate in the competition.

Since its inception the Games featured sports like archery, swimming, powerlifting, indoor rowing, and others – but never rugby, until now. This year, the Games will add an abbreviated version of wheelchair rugby to the list of medal sports.

“While these games will be an adapted version of the Paralympic games we play – I still believe that any introduction is a good introduction,” said Joe Delagrave, National Wheelchair Rugby Athlete. “Also, it is important to grow our sport not just as a Paralympic sport but a sport that everyone can play,” he elaborated.

Delagrave and his teammate Chuck Melton will take time out of their regular training season to assist with the US Navy trials this month. Together, the pair will get to work hands-on with the veterans to show them the ropes of the sport.

“I always enjoy finding ways to give back, especially to the rugby community. On top of being able to do that, I also get to give back to people who served in our armed forces. It is just an absolute honor.” Melton said.

Delagrave echoed the feeling and added that he is especially excited for the opportunity to show Veterans that adaptive sports can be a life-changing experience.

“At the core of it, I hope that these veterans pick up on the comradery associated with the sport. Wheelchair rugby is a giant support network full of people that they can relate to and talk to – and I think that is the bigger picture of these games.” Delagrave said.

“It is not just about earning a medal or being successful at the Warrior games; it’s about learning the values that adaptive sport can bring to your life” he continued.

 Lexi Branta Coon

Thinking back to the time he first started playing wheelchair rugby, Delagrave recalls feeling hesitant even resistant to adaptive sports. “Once I finally played, it completely changed my life. Playing the sport brought back a sense of normalcy back to my life and surrounded me with a group of guys who had gone through a similar situation.” Delagrave said.

For Melton, it was the same life-changing experience, “When rugby came along, it absolutely changed my life for the better. If I could pay it forward for even just one person – it is going to make my position at the trials that much more meaningful” Melton said.

“Adaptive sports – especially wheelchair rugby – can be a huge part of their journey back into civilian life and I hope that that comes to light for some of these veterans” Delagrave added.

Delagrave and Melton will assist with the Navy trials this month but will, unfortunately, miss attending the Warrior Games due to their upcoming training schedule. In addition to preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, the USA Wheelchair Rugby National Team is preparing for the 2019 Four Nations Wheelchair Rugby in Birmingham, Alabama May 22-25.

To learn more about USA Wheelchair Rugby or to support their efforts click HERE.