I'm not sure I would have any interest in hanging out with these guys. I'm impressed as anything by what they're doing; they're quadriplegics, and they're in better shape than I've ever been. You have to admire that. On the other hand, I've never much liked Sports Guys. This doesn't even just mean athletes; some of my best friends in high school were also on various of the school's teams. The difference between Steven (swim team; senior year, he was the only boy--which sounds great until you know that he's gay) and Armine (volleyball) and these guys is that Steven and Armine and I became friends because of our shared academic interests. If you'd told either of them that they had to choose between their sport and their academic competition, I don't think they would have paused for a minute before choosing the academic competition. What's more, they could talk about things that weren't swimming or volleyball.
For these guys, the sport is quad rugby. They all have diminished use of their arms; most of them have no use of their legs. They are in wheelchairs, and they play rugby. Quad rugby was invented in Canada, where it was originally called "murderball." (Toward the end, Mark Zupan acknowledges that it's hard to get corporate sponsorship if that's what you call your sport.) These guys are, with one exception, the US national team. The exception is Joe Soares, who was on the team until he was cut; his lawsuit failed, as did his attempt to be hired on as head coach, so he moved to Canada and became the head coach of their national team. This does not endear him to the American players, who don't much like him to begin with. The movie delves into both the sports angle and the personal lives of various of the players. We also see Mark Zupan go to his ten-year high school class reunion, where he is likely to meet the man who was driving the truck the night of his accident.
I can't help wondering how much of a surprise his portrayal in the film came to Joe Soares. The special features include a follow-up interview with him, and he admits that he begged the producers to take one of the scenes out--the one where, on his anniversary, his wife toasts him and he toasts his team. But you know, his wife chose to be with him. I felt that his son, Robert, wanted to explain that he felt that he could never be good enough for his father--he wasn't accomplishing as much as his father, and all his limbs work. In fact, he plays the viola (which Joe mispronounces), which his father literally cannot, and we see him all but begging his father to come home for a concert. Joe Soares says on the interview that people seem to think of him as the villain, but he didn't learn his lesson, because some of what he says in the interview is less than endearing. He's a hard man, and while he may soften when you know him, we never see it happen.
What was more interesting to me than the sport was the insight into the people. The scene which probably got this movie its R included a couple of clips from a video on how to have sex if you're a quadriplegic. The guys talk about picking up women in bars, about having that first conversation about their physical capabilities. They talk about how they ended up in their chairs. Some of them seem sweeter and more gentle than others, though of course they're all equally cutthroat on the court. I'm glad we learned that the rules do take into account how much mobility the players have--mobility is ranked on a scale from .5 to 3.5, and no team can have more than eight points on the court at a time--but it was more interesting to me to find out what else they were able to do than to watch the sport. The guys were determined that the movie not pity them, but to be perfectly honest, if it had even just mostly been clips of the game, I wouldn't have been interested in watching the movie.
At one point, they speak sharply of the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics. These guys are not mentally challenged--at least no more so than anyone else who plays rugby. (I had a friend in college who practically ended up in a wheelchair herself from going back on the field too quickly after injuries over and over.) They're smart. Most of them are funny. They just happen to have found the sport they love after they ended up in a situation where most people think you have to give up sports. Most of them broke their necks, mostly in adulthood. (Joe Soares had polio, and there are a few other disease-related causes mentioned.) However, instead of giving up on life, they've now traveled more than most people and are stronger in the parts that work than most people are overall. It's a curiously inspirational story, and indeed we even get to see someone in a hospital, recovering from a broken neck, who sees this as something he can do himself instead of just, well, sitting around.