Wheelchair rugby athletes look to steel
Steel-built bumpers allow rugby wheelchairs to repeatedly absorb the impacts of high level professional play without affecting performance.
In wheelchair rugby, one of the few full-contact sports at the Paralympic Games, competitors show breath-taking levels of bravery, enduring bone-shuddering impacts while retaining a competitive level of performance. It was originally known as ‘murderball’ for a reason.
Perhaps that explains why the athletes require specially built wheelchairs that are lightweight, manoeuvrable and responsive but, most importantly, extremely durable. From games taking place at the pinnacle of the sport down to amateur level matches, steel is always crucial in the creation of the wheelchairs.
The rules of the game
Wheelchair rugby has been a part of the Paralympic Games since 2000 and is now played in more than 25 countries around the world, according to the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation.
It is a sport for quadriplegic athletes, where men and women compete on the same teams and in the same competitions. The rules combine parts of rugby, basketball and handball to create a thrilling spectacle full of high-octane action and unforgiving collisions.
The bumpers – used to ‘hook’ opponents and generally taking the brunt of the impact throughout the game – are made from high-carbon steel.
Contact between the competitors’ wheelchairs occurs very regularly. In fact, it’s seen as a vitally important aspect of the sport. Players will use contact to block and hold opponents, and the players’ wheelchairs are designed to help them do it.
There are two main types of wheelchair rugby position – offensive and defensive – and the wheelchair design is matched for each. Offensive players are reliant on speed and manoeuvrability, while defensive players need their chairs to be more robust and are fitted with a special pick bar or bumper that allows them to ‘hook’ opponents.
Durability of performance
Manufacturers of rugby wheelchairs go to great lengths to ensure they are suitable for the performance and safety requirements of athletes. Wheelchairs used at the highest level can run to $6,500 or more, with each chair perfectly mapped to the athlete using it.
The major global manufacturer of rugby wheelchairs, RMA Sports, says, “there are countless hours of research and development behind the design of our rugby wheelchairs as the nature of the sport is aggressive, energetic and high-impact; therefore, the equipment must be robust yet agile.”
The frame designs tend to focus on reducing weight to ensure manoeuvrability for elite performers. However, the bumpers – used to ‘hook’ opponents and generally taking the brunt of the impact throughout the game – are made from high-carbon steel.
The high-strength steel bumper allows the wheelchairs to be lighter overall by using less material, without compromising on the level of strength required for competitive play.
It is steel that gives elite wheelchair rugby athletes the confidence that their chairs can withstand the mayhem of a professional showdown, leaving them to simply focus on securing victory for their team.