PHILADELPHIA, PA (NBC) – The Philadelphia Eagles wheelchair rugby team gives life back to its members and smashes stereotypes one hit at a time.
A.J. Nanayakkara lost his “able-bodied” life with one bad fall when he was a martial arts instructor 16 years ago. The spinal cord injury left him with quadriplegia, in a wheelchair and in a deep depression for the next eight years.
“A lot of people, after their injuries, just sit at home,” Nanayakkara said.
Then someone over at Magee Rehab finally convinced him to get into Quad Rugby – a wheelchair sport that’s so physically aggressive it’s been nicknamed “murderball.”
“It gave me my life back,” Nanayakkara said. “It gave me a purpose. What makes life special is doing the things you don’t have to do.”
Playing wheelchair rugby at an elite level not only gave A.J. a life of purpose and adventure, it has allowed him to travel the world.
“Doing this got me into volunteering and peer mentoring, which got me back into college and that’s where I met my wife.”
A.J. coaches and plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, Magee Rehab’s quad rugby or wheelchair rugby team.
More than 20 players hit the court each fall for tournament play, and year ’round they do a lot of outreach. Their goal is to make sure other people who have had spinal cord injuries know what a lifesaver murderball can be.
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