Murderball, camaraderie, and armour-plated wheelchairs on the Parasport NB road show

·3 min read
After a motorcycle accident, Yeobanny Becerril lost a leg, but not his love of sports. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)
After a motorcycle accident, Yeobanny Becerril lost a leg, but not his love of sports. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)

Sept. 11, 2021, was the day Yeobanny Becerril's life changed forever.

The 32-year-old was riding his motorcycle on McDonald Street in east Saint John, when he collided with a city transit bus.

"I was in a coma for three and a half months," said Becerril, a former runner and lifelong athlete.

"I broke all my ribs, I punctured one lung and separated my shoulder in three places. Broke a couple of fingers. I have a serious brain injury."

WATCH | 'It puts everyone on a level playing field' 

Becerril's right leg had to be amputated below the knee.

He spent several weeks at the Saint John Regional Hospital after recovering from the coma, followed by four months at the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre in Fredericton, regaining his abilities.

"I cried a lot," Becerril said. "It's not easy. Everyone's like, 'Oh, just keep your head up.' But it's still hard, no matter what anybody tells you."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

Becerril was fully in his element on a recent day as he zoomed up and down the gym at the Nick Nicolle Community Centre in the north end of Saint John on a wheelchair with dozens of other athletes, practising passes and drills as part of the Parasport NB road show.

Parasport provides a venue, all the gear and an introduction to wheelchair basketball, goalball, boccia — and wheelchair rugby, originally called "murderball," according to the International Paralympic Committee, because of the aggressive and full-contact style of play.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

Athletes with quadriplegia developed wheelchair rugby in Canada in the 1970s. It made its debut as a medal sport at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. It was the subject of the award-winning 2005 documentary Murderball.

The sport is now played in more than 25 countries.

Two teams in armoured, reinforced wheelchairs compete in teams of four. Some players use offensive chairs, which are set up for speed and mobility and have a front bumper to prevent other wheelchairs from hooking them, while others have defensive wheelchairs with bumpers that can be used to hook and hold other players.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

"It's really a ruthless sport," said program coordinator Simon Richard. "But it's a really fun sport to play. My first impression was like, 'Oh, geez, this is like bumper cars and playing rugby at same time.'"

"For a lot of people, it's a new sport," said program coordinator Logan Aalders. "It's just an amazing opportunity for people to get out and play with their friends, play with their family. It puts everyone on a level playing field."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

Also playing at the road show event was Saint John's Eric Payne. Like Beceril, Payne lost his leg in a motor vehicle crash.

After his 2007 accident, he became involved in a variety of sports — most notably sledge hockey. He's hoping to put together a para ice hockey program in fall 2022.

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"I'm human. I don't feel disabled," Payne said. "Other people will stare, and some take that very negatively. I don't. I see it more as the fact that people are looking at me, trying to figure out what this is — and if it happened to them, would they be OK?

"I know  I've lived it, and I'm OK. I find when you talk to the person, that's where you're going to find the humanity."

"We're out there playing sport. I don't like putting 'para' in front of it, although that's the reality of it.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

The road show has made stops in Saint John, Caraquet, Edmundston, and Fredericton.

The next stops will be Sunday, Aug. 7 from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Golden Hawk Recreation Centre in Miramichi, and Monday, Aug. 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Centre Scolaire Communautaire La Fontaine in Neguac.

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