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Sport to sport, with no break in between

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Anthony McDaniel attends the Wheelchair Rugby event during the Invictus Games at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), Toronto, Canada, Sept. 28, 2017. Invictus Games, September 23-30, is an international Paralympic-style, multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry of Wales, in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sports including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, sitting vollyball, archery, cycling, wheelchair tennis, powerlifting, golf, swimming, and indoor rowing. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Seara Marcsis)

By Robert A. Whetstone
Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs

TORONTO – The Invictus Games gathered 17 nations and over 500 service member athletes to Toronto on September 23. The festivities end today, but the crashing of wheelchair rugby will continue to reverberate off the walls of the Mattamy Athletics Centre for quite some time. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and ‘wheelchair rugby speed demon’ Anthony McDaniel rolled with the punches during several epic collisions.

McDaniel is a wiry man with a metabolism most would envy. He participates in numerous sports, but the grind and back-to-back nature of the wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball events can take a toll on athletes if they’re not careful. “There’s a lot of physicality involved, especially with wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball,” explained McDaniel. “The chairs are a lot heavier in rugby.”

The pushing, starting and stopping, getting hit, and maintaining yourself throughout wheelchair rugby, then switching to wheelchair basketball looks exhausting. “Sometimes your body just slows down, and at the same time, adrenaline will pick you back up,” said McDaniel. “Your body can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. It depends on how you prepare yourself.”

U.S. Army veteran Anthony Pone has a similar take on the physical challenge of participating in multiple sports at competitions like the Invictus Games. Pone has legitimate NFL tight end size and a smile to match his stature. Asked if it is a challenge for him to go from one sport to another, Pone was quick to say no. “The key is being in good (physical) condition, because it’s much more than participating in sports, especially when you’re an adaptive athlete,” he said. “You have to take care of your body.”

To help his body recover, McDaniel, a triple amputee, uses an old reliable method. “I drink a lot of orange juice and I hydrate all day,” he said. “I’m eating right, and at the right time, I’m not skipping meals because all of that is important. If you don’t take care of yourself during competition, it can lead to injuries.” Pone, an above the knee amputee, says if you are physically capable, you can participate in any sport.

There are minor differences and several similarities between wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball. “In wheelchair rugby, you have to dribble every 10 seconds, and in basketball you have to dribble every 2 pushes,” said McDaniel. “The chair skill and movement is all the same. It is more of a recover-defensive position in wheelchair basketball, and an attack-defensive position in wheelchair rugby. Backcourt violations are the same in each sport.” Pone agreed with McDaniel’s assessment. “It takes a lot of time and dedication, but the more you practice, the more you’ll get better.”

After winning the wheelchair rugby bronze medal, Team U.S. family members and fans fought through traffic and took their enthusiasm to the Pan Am Sports Centre for the wheelchair basketball event on September 29. It seems almost criminal to ask these multi-sport athletes to compete in the grueling task to strain their muscles for more than just a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

Adaptive reconditioning has played a vital role in Pone and McDaniel’s recovery. “That’s the key to success,” said Pone. “If you’re into sports, reach out to somebody,” said McDaniel. “There’s always something for you to do. Even if you’re not really good in wheelchair basketball, it can be an introduction to a whole different sport.”

Pone hit on a familiar theme among athletes. “Get involved, it will save your life,” he said. “Don’t be hesitant to reach out to people because people are willing to help you,” said McDaniel.

Today, Team U.S. wiped the sleep out of their eyes and stretched tight muscles enduring an early morning semi-final match, beating Team Denmark, 42 –17 in the Mattamy Athletics Centre. Evidently, members of Team U.S. didn’t suffer from much physical or mental fatigue from participating in multiple sports back-to-back. They won the Invictus Games wheelchair basketball gold medal, beating Team Netherlands 55 – 51.

As a spectator, you’re not watching ‘wheelchair basketball’ or ‘wheelchair rugby’, you’re watching basketball and rugby.

To see Team U.S. Invictus Games results go to: http://www.results.invictusgames2017.com, click on a sport and follow the ‘show events’ link.

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