Some of the world’s top athletes are in Birmingham this week for the 2019 Four Nations Wheelchair Rugby Invitational.
The invitational features teams from the United States, Australia, Great Britain and Japan in wheelchair rugby, which is a cross between rugby, hockey, basketball and handball.
“This is like the first time we’ve been able to get everyone in the top four here at one time,” said James Gumbert, USA Wheelchair Rugby coach. “So, it’s quite the coup for Birmingham, and it’s very exciting.”
The matches, which are all played at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, started Wednesday morning and continue through Saturday’s Gold Medal Game. Admission is free.
U.S. team co-captain Joe Delagrave said the sport is a combination of hard hits and strategy.
“I love wheelchair rugby. The first thing you see is the hits, and everything’s big and loud. It’s full contact, and when people see it they are like, ‘people with disabilities are going to go around and smack each other with their chairs, and they’re not scared of anything,’” Delagrave said. “There’s a lot of strategy on the court. … There’s a lot of high-speed chess, and you get to smash into each other, which is kind of cool.”
Lakeshore is the home of USA Wheelchair Rugby. This week’s invitational is the only international match in the United States leading up to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo.
“We are an Olympic and Paralympic training site so we have teams come through fairly often,” said Lauren Cherney, Lakeshore Foundation’s recreation and athletics specialist. “We are really proud to host this invitational and have all these team’s visiting for top competition before Tokyo 2020.”
For more information, visit lakeshore.org.