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The Will to Win

Online Exclusive posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 2:26pm

"It is about breaking molds and breaking barriers"

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) member Will Groulx (pronounced “Grew”)  knows a lot about winning. He’s a three-time Paralympics and world championship gold medalist. Groulx is also 1 of 16 athletes who made the cut for the 2011 U.S. Wheelchair Rugby American Zonal Team. The team will take up to 12 players to the quad rugby zonal championships in Bogota, Columbia, in September.

 “Having a spinal-cord injury, being in a chair, doesn’t change who you are,” Groulx says. “It changes how you go about things.”
The Bogota games are a qualifier for the 2012 Paralympics, which will take place in London. The 36-year-old Navy veteran plays for Oregon’s Portland Pounders. He was on the 2010 U.S. Wheelchair Rugby World Championship Team, which took the gold in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not only did Groulx lead the ’08 U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team in scoring—in a 53-44 win over Australia for the gold—but he pushed 12 goals at the 2010 World Championships, again leading the U.S. team’s scoring.

Quad, or wheelchair, rugby was originally—and is still often—called “murderball.” It’s a high-speed, full-contact sport that requires specially made wheelchairs and courageous players. It’s not a wheelchair version of traditional rugby but consists of elements from several sports. Players vie to capture a ball and carry it across the opposing team’s goal line. The field is the same size as a basketball court, and the ball is identical to a regulation volleyball. Teams have four players each on the field during play.

U.S. team coach James “Gumbie” Gumbert predicts Groulx will be a dominant force in quad rugby for years to come.
“He is, without a doubt, the hardest working guy on our team,” Gumbert says. “He trains regularly, and he’s a self motivator. He’s very quick. His game gets better every time he gets on the floor.”
Groulx is a lifelong athlete.

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 “I played football pretty much all my life,” he says. “I grew up in Tennessee, where football is king.”
At the University of Tennessee, Groulx picked up an athletic scholarship to play volleyball. That’s what got him interested in the Navy.
“My whole intent to join the Navy was to play volleyball all over the world,” he says.

A 2001 motorcycle accident left Groulx with a spinal cord injury. While rehabilitating at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Seattle, Groulx learned about PVA quad rugby and the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. He joined Paralyzed Veterans, and made it to New York for the Games that year, getting his first taste of wheelchair rugby.

“I was using borrowed equipment, and actually had a blast,” he recalls.
PVA and VA co-host the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world. The 2011 Wheelchair Games will take place in Pittsburgh, August 1 – 6, and will feature veterans who use wheelchairs competing in 17 different sports.

After the Games, Groulx returned to Portland, joined the Pounders, and quickly picked up a hardcore fan—Amy. “I met my wife through rugby,” Groulx says. “She’d been a volunteer at a lot of the tournaments in Portland.”
The pair married in 2005. Last November their twins were born.

Groulx is a member of the Northwest Chapter of PVA, where he served as a member of its board of directors and hopes to become the chapter’s sports director in the future. Groulx believes wheelchair sports are the best therapy for those with spinal-cord injuries and for society, too.

“It is about breaking molds and breaking barriers,” he says. “We’re not just at home playing video games or watching television or reading books. We are getting out and being active members of society.” Groulx said he especially enjoys traveling with his quad rugby teams.

“One of the first things that happens when we’re traveling around is people ask, ‘What are those chairs for? They look different.’  You get to say, ‘I play wheelchair rugby.’ Their eyes bug out, and they say, ‘Really?’ ”

For more information, visit PVA online or call 800-424-8200


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The Will to Win


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