July 17, 2002
Paralysis association grant means better equipment for physically challenged athletes
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—As a physically challenged athlete herself, Natalie Ellis understands the importance of having the best sports equipment.
That’s partly why the Mississippi Paralysis Association, which Ellis is president of, has made a $5,000 donation to Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s therapeutic recreation program.
The money will be used to upgrade and purchase new equipment for the hospital’s quad rugby team.
“We’ve always worked closely with Methodist Rehab to help their patients,” Ellis said. “All of the members of our board have disabilities, so this is something that is close to all of our hearts.”
Ellis injured her spinal cord in 1988 when her car ran off the road and flipped over after she fell asleep at the wheel.
Like many others with disabilities, sports played a role in her recovery. She worked with therapeutic recreation specialists at Methodist Rehab and soon began competing in wheelchair races and water skiing.
Later, she became a certified Class A scuba diver. “It is so much more difficult to dive or participate in any sport without good, properly fitted equipment,” said Ellis. “We’re really happy to be able to help the hospital’s therapeutic recreation program.”
The quad rugby team will enter its sixth season this fall. “And we’ve been using the same equipment we had when we started,” said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab.
A contribution from Mississippi Project Start got the team off the ground. Boydston and team member, Wiley Clark, held clinics around the state to drum up interest.
In quad rugby, teams of four use specialized wheelchairs to carry the rugby ball across the goal line. The game is usually played indoors on a basketball court and every 10 seconds, a player with the ball must either dribble or pass—all while being slammed into by players from the opposing team.
“It’s a high contact sport so our equipment takes a lot of punishment,” said Boydston.
As long as the rugby team stays together and competes season-to-season, the grant will be an annual contribution.
That’s especially important in helping the team meet the increasing demands of rule changes. “It’s so important to us because a wheelchair that is out of compliance with the rules would be ruled illegal in a game and possibly cost us a win,” Boydston added.
“As a coach, I don’t want my athletes worried about their equipment when they should be concentrating on playing the game as well as possible.”
But the point of playing rugby isn’t necessarily to win games, reminds Boydston. “Playing sports helps develop confidence and friendships. It helps our athletes become independent. They learn to travel and achieve on their own when they’re off the court.”
In 1994, Ellis married and in 1996, she gave birth to her daughter.
“MPA has seen the benefits of quad rugby in the athlete and the community,” said Boydston. “And we’re very grateful for their support.”