By Anna Werner
If everything goes as planned, SpoFit will be adding yet another team sport to its list of adaptive sports for people with disabilities to play in the near future. Wheelchair lacrosse is new, aggressive and has the competitive intensity many individuals in wheelchairs long to resume playing. Last weekend, twenty-five participants attended the first Wheelchair Lacrosse Clinic held at SpoFit.
Bill Lundstrom and Ryan Baker, founders of Wheelchair Lacrosse USA , traveled from San Diego to lead the two-day clinic. The first day players learned the basics of chair mobility, stick skills, general lacrosse instruction and rules along with situational drills and game play. On Sunday, players tested their new skills and scrimmaged against each other. At the conclusion of the tournament WLUSA donated approximately $5,000 of equipment to SpoFit to help begin a team in Phoenix.
“It went phenomenal,” Matthew Slansky, the fitness specialist at SpoFit, said. “The participants were excited, dedicated and motivated. The skill level that came out of it and the camaraderie and sportsmanship… it was awesome. I’m unbelievably excited for the future. “
Wheelchair lacrosse is an eight-on-eight game played on a roller hockey rink or box lacrosse pad. Players use a manual sports wheelchair that is also used for sports such as basketball. The game consists of four 15-minute quarters, and positions include attack, midfield, defense and goalie. Equipment includes 40-inch lacrosse sticks, two D-Poles per team, a no-bounce indoor lacrosse ball and ice hockey sized goals.
Kyle Angelini, a volunteer at the clinic and employee of the adaptive recreation program for Scottsdale has played lacrosse since junior high and said that wheelchair lacrosse is “definitely more challenging.”
“When you’re running and passing it’s kind of one motion, but when you’re pushing and doing it you have to think about your push, and then you have to set your hands up for a pass,” he said. “It definitely gives you new respect for the athletes out here doing it. They face a little more adversity, yet their doing a little bit more than the average person that’s playing the sport.”
Ryan Pinney , a participant from Phoenix who competes internationally in competitive hand cycling, said it provides a new option for wheelchair athletes.
“It offers another option for people who are really athletic individuals that don’t normally like basketball or hand cycling or tennis,” he said. “They might have enjoyed football before they got hurt, and they might not be eligible for [wheelchair] rugby … This offers another option for them. It’s a little more physical, but it also requires a lot of agility. “
Lundstrom said he never played lacrosse before his injury, but that it is his sport of choice.
“ I need that contact, I need that aggression, I need to burn that energy,” he said. “Riding a hand cycle or swimming is good exercise, but it doesn’t feed the animal inside. Somehow the pain from getting wacked in the arm just makes you know you’re alive.”
Slansky developed the idea of hosting a wheelchair lacrosse clinic during his internship last spring at SpoFit. He worked with Gus LaZear, the general manager and vice president of SpoFit, to contact Baker and Lundstrom at WLUSA.
Baker and Lundstrom thought up the idea of wheelchair lacrosse while on a ski trip in 2008. They developed a rulebook and held their first instructional and educational wheelchair lacrosse clinic in 2010 in San Jose, California. Since then, they have developed 17 programs across the country and are working with the Canadian Lacrosse Association and the Federation of International Lacrosse to develop teams all over the world.
“Ultimately the goal would be to have wheelchair lacrosse be considered for the Paralympics,” Baker said.
SpoFit hopes to compete in the next WLUSA tournament in Ocean City, Maryland this August. Eight players from the clinic have committed to playing on the team, and Slansky, who will coach, said he wants to start practice in the near future. Tim Surry, a paraplegic who was injured in in a car accident 27 years ago, is an employee at SpoFit and participated in the clinic. He said he is excited to start playing on the team.
“I look forward to traveling, and to be honest, I look forward to bringing a trophy home,” Surry said.
At the end of the year, Baker said WLUSA hopes to host a national championship from which they will develop a national team that will eventually play in a world championship.
“We want to keep growing and building the sport, exposing more people to it and building programs so they can grow and have competitive rosters,” Baker said. “At the end of the day, everyone wants to compete, that’s all they want to do. The more opportunity they have to compete, the more motivated they’re going to be to play.”
Anna Werner is a junior at Barrett the Honors College at Arizona State University and served as the marketing intern at Ability360 last summer. She is studying journalism and is passionate about fitness, writing, and traveling.