#3: Wheelchair Rugby Begins

Written by Kathy Newman

One evening, in 1977, four men were on their way to the Manitoba Health Science Rehabilitation Centre in Winnipeg to perform some weight training with the help of  a volunteer trainer.As it turned out, the trainer did not show up for their training session, and so the four guys decided to go to the gym and throw a ball around. And thus began “Murderball.”

The “Founding Fathers” of Murderball were Gerry Terwin, Duncan Campbell, Randy Dueck, and Paul LeJeune; all four were quadriplegics and very keen on sport. After experimenting with a basketball, they decided to use a volleyball because it was lighter and easier to handle with impaired hand and arm function. They initially set up garbage cans at the end of the court to score into because they were unable to throw the ball high enough to reach the basketball hoop. That idea worked well until they realized that while they could get the ball into the can easily enough, it was much harder to get the ball out. After this realization, they regrouped and decided to set up a goal area using cones at either end of the gym. That night was the start of the development of the first team sport for quadriplegics. It was rudimentary at the start, but they continued to come back each week to further develop the rules.

When asked why they decided to call the new sport “Murderball,” Gerry remarked, “It just fit to how the game is played with the banging and crashing, and trying to basically murder the guy that has the ball!”
The four of them knew that they were on to something great, and under Gerry’s leadership, they started to promote the sport across Canada. Whenever they attended a competition of any kind, nationally or internationally, they delivered demonstrations on the sport and promoted it to the quads that were there. Gerry worked with local referee Ben Harnish to fine tune the rules, and with local doctor, Dr. Dubo, to assist in the development of a classification system to support the game.

In the early years of development, athletes used a folding Everest & Jennings (E&J) wheelchair; however these chairs were not built for contact sport and broke down often on court. When the new Quadra Rigid Wheelchair was released to the market, athletes were very excited to test it out.

40 years later… Murderball, now called Wheelchair Rugby, is played around the world in over 50 countries. It is a Paralympic Sport, and in 2008 was named a Canadian Heritage Sport; one of only six Heritage Sports in Canada, and the only Parasport to be named.

These four athletes were on to something BIG and they made an impact around the world with their ingenuity and leadership in moving the sport to where it is today.