Quadriplegic Bryan Kirkland Turns Up The Heat In Wheelchair Rugby

Kirkland was proud to be an Olympic athlete.

Kirkland was proud to be an Olympic athlete.

Editor’s Note: When Bryan Kirkland of Leeds, Alabama, lay in the dirt after a tragic motocross accident, he hoped he only had a pinched nerve. But when he discovered that he had a spinal cord injury and never would walk or probably play sports again, this 6’5” 205 pound athlete thought his world was over. The last place he ever thought he would be years later was on the stage with some of the greatest athletes his home state ever had produced. One of the most successful Paralympians ever with gold, silver and bronze medals in wheelchair rugby and a gold medal in the World Games’ track and field, Kirkland was selected to be enshrined in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in May 2012. He also broke the barrier for wheelchair athletes to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and opened the door for more wheelchair athletes to be recognized across in the United States. Part 4 of a 5 part series.

According to Kirkland, “When I first started playing rugby, I never believed that our team could accomplish what it did. You have to remember that wheelchair rugby was only introduced in 1996 at the Paralympic games, so the sport was relatively new. When I got into wheelchair rugby, I thought, ’Wow, I’m in a sport that can allow me to go to the Olympics and be an Olympic athlete,’ a thought that really blew my mind. As a kid, I always dreamed of being an athlete on the highest level, but after my accident, I felt that all hope had died of achieving that dream. Now I had a chance again. In 2000, I actually made the Olympic team and went to five Olympic Games and world championships all over the globe. The year after I was first introduced to rugby, I met some wheelchair athletes who were competing in track and field. I thought I’d like to try that out and see what I could do. A year after starting to play rugby, I was able to get a racing chair and started training to race in a wheelchair.”

Kirkland was also a natural at wheelchair racing!

Kirkland was also a natural at wheelchair racing!

Finally Kirkland had his life back and was a dual sport athlete, just like he’d been in high school. He not only was back in life and back in sports, he was recapturing the youth he thought he had lost when he had his accident. He competed in both sports – played rugby and competed in track meets, including 5K, 10K and half-marathons, worked at Home Depot, found love and was out on his own. Although he was keeping a schedule of activities that would wear out most anyone, Bryan Kirkland was thriving on all the physical activities and the success he was having. As his body became stronger and quicker, and his mind began to recognize the accomplishments he was making, Bryan Kirkland was not only back in the game of life, he was winning it. The only real handicap that Kirkland had was that he couldn’t compete in track and field and rugby at the Olympic Games. He was only able to compete in one sport. So, he chose rugby. “Rugby was my main sport, and track was my secondary sport,” Kirkland reports.

Most athletes would be satisfied to be playing at the highest level of their sport, but Kirkland wasn’t. He competed as hard in track and field as he competed in rugby. “I was able to compete and travel to races on a national level, and I loved doing road races like 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. I really enjoyed driving myself to find out how fast I could really be.” The good news for Kirkland was wheelchair racing competitions were held after his rugby season ended. So, he could transition from one sport to the other. Rugby competitions took place from the end of September and ended in April. Track season started in March, and racing season usually went until the beginning of rugby season. For a couple of months (March and April), Kirkland had to train for both, but according to Kirkland, “The neat thing about my training schedule was the rugby team practiced only twice a week together. I could do my racing workouts on my own at any time. So, I didn’t have much of a problem training for both sports. The World Wheelchair Games, which included track, weren’t on the same years as the Olympic Games. Therefore I could compete in both the World Wheelchair Games and the Olympic Games. In the 1998 World Wheelchair Games, I was able to compete in track and field. I’d tried out to compete in the Olympics that year in rugby, but I didn’t make the team. So, I focused all my attention on track, and I made the team and did well.”

Next: Quadriplegic Bryan Kirkland Balances Competitive Sports & A Career

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com<!–

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