Suburban wheelchair rugby player named to Team USA
Life couldn't be busier for Kevin Hamilton of Arlington Heights. As a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Champaign, he carries a rigorous load of classes in communications and journalism.
But that's just the start of the story.
He rises before dawn each day in order to work out with the Illinois wheelchair basketball team, which competes throughout the school year. In fact on Wednesday, March 13, the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament opens, in Champaign.
Yet Hamilton has international competition on his radar. In January, he was named to Team USA's wheelchair rugby team. That's right, rugby.
Hamilton first learned about the sport as a junior in high school when he attended a development camp held at Moraine Valley Community College. Right from the start, he says he was hooked and he joined the Chicago Bears, which competes in the U.S. Quad Rugby Association and practices in Addison.
They practice twice a week and compete in weekend tournaments throughout the Midwest. Though Hamilton is not able to make many of the practices since he is away at college, when he does play with the team, he commutes by bus to meet up with them.
"Wheelchair rugby is a physical sport, full of contact," Hamilton says, "especially for someone like me, who's a small ballhandler.
"I tend to end up on the floor at least a couple of times a game, from some of the hits," he adds. "And that doesn't include any of the hits I take that don't knock me down."
It's all part of the game, apparently, though the wheelchairs generally take most of the abuse. Unlike basketball, where crashing chairs would be a foul, in rugby it is part of the strategy as long as a player is not deliberately trying to knock someone over.
Hamilton eventually tried out for Team USA during a four-day tryout at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He made the team and now is in a position to compete at the next Summer Paralympics in August 2020 in Toyko.
But first things first. In May, after closing out his sophomore year of college, Hamilton and Team USA will be among the top five teams heading to the Four Nations International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.
Officials with USA Wheelchair Rugby are describing the competition as a good test before the Summer Games.
Rugby made its Paralympic debut as a demonstration event in 1996 in Atlanta. It became a medal sport in Sydney in 2000 with the United States winning the gold.
According to U.S. Paralympics, the game was first developed in Canada as a team sport for quadriplegic athletes. It was originally known as "murderball" because of its intense physical nature and later came to be called "quad rugby" -- or just wheelchair rugby.
The objective of wheelchair rugby is for a player to carry a ball across the opponent's goal line in order to score a point. A volleyball is used and must be bounced or passed between teammates at least once every 10 seconds during play.
Hamilton says he loves the fast-paced nature of the game and its physicality, but that's also the challenge. He constantly works to improve his upper body strength and agility.
"As great as it is being named to Team USA," Hamilton says, "if I don't continue to work to improve my body or game, then I'm holding myself and my teammates back."
It's just part of the busy routine for this student athlete, who now is juggling his college studies with his wheelchair basketball season and national commitments with Team USA. He's tired, he admits, but it's a good problem to have.