30 Aug 2015

Action and Adrenaline

From One In Five, 7:06 pm on 30 August 2015

"It's just one of those games," says Pat Edmonds, as he tries to pin down the fast-growing appeal of powerchair football.

"It's got adrenaline racing through your body as you smash that ball," he says.

And then there's the speed of the chairs on a small, indoor court: "You're going at 10kmph forward and backwards so its a quick game!"

As Katy Gosset finds, for many players with disabilities, the sport is also a chance to get lost in the moment and revel in a burst of adrenaline.

Pat Edmonds says powerchair football has taken off around the world with 28 countries now involved.

In New Zealand, the Canterbury squad is well established and players have already tackled an Australian national side on two occasions. Pat says the first time the New Zealanders were thrashed 31 nil but last year they closed the gap, losing 6 nil.

He says the Australians have a number of regional sides from which to choose their squad but the Canterbury team has struggled to get players involved.

"Once they actually experience it, they get hooked immediately."

Playing on a Knife-Edge

Pat Edmonds says the ability to play powerchair football successfully depends on how well the player operates the chair rather than how much function each individual has.

He says that means the game is played by many people who have muscular dystrophy as well as some who are "dangerously ill".

"There are people who play with ventilators and basically if they get hit, they can be killed."

As a result any contact is taken very seriously and anyone who receives a red card must leave, not just the court, but the entire building.

Pat Edmonds

Pat Edmonds Photo: RNZ/ Katy Gosset

"If you have a dangerous hit, well, you're gone."

He agrees it places a responsibility on all players to compete safely and to show respect for each other.

"If you play it well, you don't get hit. You can spin around. You can kick. You can be part of a sports team."

And once players have a had a taste of the sport, they seem eager to carry on, he says. "You know they're living life on a knife edge but, in saying that, they love the game."

The Young Gun

While Pat, at 53 is the oldest player, Luke Alderton is the youngest - and the Christchurch teenager is already a veteran of two Trans-Tasman clashes.

Like Pat he plays in a "Strike Force", a top-of-the-range wheelchair, designed in the United States for powerchair football.

The chairs can get up to 10kmph in a matter of seconds and Luke says it took him a few months before he could put the ball "sort of in the right direction".

He believes the sport is the only one that provides a truly competitive team environment for powerchair users and he says serious competitions can be tough.

"In a final [when] you're down one nil, the pressure to score a goal [is] really hard and you have to be able to soak it up throughout the 40 minute match."

Luke says a competitive game also offers a good mental challenge. "Although it doesn't involve your body moving, your brain is constantly going. It's like doing a three hour exam."

Luke's mother, Ali Alderton, is courtside at today's game, not as a parent - but a coach.

She and her husband, Steve, both volunteered to coach to help their son access the sport.

Luke Alderton and Diane Williams. The powerchairs reach up to 10kmph during a fierce competition.

The powerchairs reach up to 10kmph during a fierce competition. Photo: RNZ/ Katy Gosset

"Luke really enjoys it and we want to make sure that he can participate and so we've decided that we'll help out as much as we can." 

She believes playing sport is another part of Kiwi life that she wants her son to experience.

"Being able to play something that is competitive and fun and high-speed, high impact in a souped-up chair, they love it, so it's really important."

And she says the sport also offers time out from some of the physical and medical challenges many of the players face.

"The opportunity that sport gives them is a time to be in their chairs, not to think about any of that and just to compete and I think that's really healthy."

The Newbie

Five weeks after her first game, Diane Williams is already hooked. She enjoys the speed and can't wait to get her own wheelchair adapted.

"I love it, I absolutely love it," she says.

She admits sometimes the action is so fast that spectators put cones around her assistance dog on the side lines to ensure the ball won't hit him.

Five years ago Diane had a stroke which prevented her from using one side of her body and stopped her playing the many sports she enjoyed, such as indoor netball, soccer and rugby

"To have a stroke one day, that was all over. So I needed something to take its place."

It wasn't until she came across powerchair football that she found the fast-paced option she'd been looking for.

"You don't need to be fast-paced if you can't or don't want to be but I like being fast."   

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