In 2009 an accident left Dwayne Nystrom a quadriplegic. Today, the 39-year-old Cameron Park man is playing quadriplegic rugby with an eye on a national ranking for his team and a dream of competing for the United States someday in the Paralympic Games.
Nystrom first tried quad rugby a year after his accident when he watched the acclaimed documentary film, Murderball. He has since been competing for the Sierra Storm quad rugby team in a wheelchair that doesn’t fit his body, causing him to occasionally be knocked from the chair in the full-contact sport.
To help Nystrom take his game to the next level, family and friends are hosting a March 16 spaghetti fundraiser 4 to 8 p.m. at Firefighters Memorial Hall in Diamond Springs. Proceeds will help Nystrom, a longtime El Dorado County resident who grew up in Placerville, fund the purchase of a $5,000 wheelchair specially fitted for the sport he has come to love.
“I feel like playing rugby gives me the freedom to experience what life has to offer,” said Nystrom, adding that his wife and three children enjoy watching him compete. “My family gets to see me being active enjoying a sport. It shows them that all things are possible.”
Life has certainly changed for Nystrom since he slipped in his garage and broke his neck when his head struck a nearby refrigerator. He can no longer operate his business as an excavating contractor. But he said he and his family have moved forward the best they can, and being part of the Sierra Storm has helped energize him.
“To be part of this team in my own backyard, I just jumped at the chance,” said Nystrom, explaining that some states such as Oregon only have one quad rugby team and team members have to travel considerable distances just to practice.
The Sierra Storm consists of players from various regional cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno. The team practices twice weekly at a Sacramento middle school, and they compete in tournaments from Sacramento and Seattle to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The team will play March 22 in Seattle in a sectional playoff to hopefully earn an invitation to the national championships later this year in Kentucky.
Quad rugby is played on a full basketball court, with four players from each team competing. The four players play a form of man-to-man defense, trying to prevent the other from scoring. Teams consist of players — mostly male, but some female — with varying levels of upper body movement, with each player receiving a ranking determined by physical therapists and each team adding up to eight total points. Nystrom, for example, said his upper body mobility is relatively high at a ranking of 3.5, while others on his team rank below that mark.
Make no mistake, though, the game is definitely a rugby match. Nystrom said the game becomes fast and physical — one part basketball, one part hockey — as players race up and down the court in wheelchairs. He estimates he was traveling 10 mph, the same rate as an opponent, when the two collided violently in a match. The game also has its share of scoring, with the typical winning team racking up 30 to 40 total points.
The Sierra Storm has steadily improved over the past two seasons, ranking just out of the top 20 national teams last year and in a position this season to finish top 15 and possibly top 10.
“The game is really all about positioning, but it’s always fun to knock someone out of bounds too,” said Nystrom. “Our team is full of good people who are very generous. And we all want to win.”
Nystrom’s phsyical endeavors today haven’t stopped at rugby. He still likes being towed in the water on an open lake when he is camping and plans to build a special water ski that will support him. He is also adept at iron works. Nystrom is creating sculptures that will be part of the spaghetti fundraiser raffle, and he made miniature wheelchair rugby trophies for his teammates last season.
“The motto I have is the sun is going to come up with or without me,” said Nystrom. “It’s my choice to see it. And I choose to go out and see the sun every day.”
For more information on the fundraiser, contact Diane Ungles at (530) 417-2310. Learn more about the Sierra Storm Quad Rugby team on its Facebook page.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.