Athletes from all over the Northeast come to Connecticut each year for the annual Gaylord Wheelchair Rugby Invitational Tournament.
This year, the Gaylord Sports Association hosted the two day event at the Sports and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford.
“You think ‘oh, I’m not going to be able to play sports anymore,’ and to find a sport that you can compete in and get competitive in is just awesome,” said Gaylord Jammers Defenseman Mike Delysle.
The Colchester native has been an athlete his whole life. He played hockey and dirt biked across the country until a spinal cord injury on the bike, put him in a wheelchair in 2016.
He didn’t know whether he’d be able to play sports competitively again.
“One of the team members actually came on a peer visit and got me out as soon as I left the hospital,” Delysle said.
After seven months in the hospital, the Gaylord Jammers Wheelchair Rugby team helped him regain function and improve his mobility.
His new teammates became family.
“It was fun just hanging out with a bunch of other guys all dealing with the same problems you have showing me how to do things,” Delysle said.
He has been playing wheelchair rugby since he left the hospital.
Delysle practices with the Gaylord Jammers every week and travels to tournaments like this one every month.
The one thing he can’t play without is his customized rugby wheelchair.
“The wheels are really cambered out so we can turn really fast,” Delysle explained as he showed us his chair. “It’s got the picker on the front so you can stop other chairs on defense. We’ve got all of these straps to hold us in real tight. Sometimes guys flip over so you don’t want to fall out.”
The Gaylord Sports Association’s program offers all kinds of adaptive sports for athletes like Mike: everything from sled hockey and kayaking to archery and golf.
The program’s goal is to get people with physical disabilities back into their sport, or even introduce them to something completely new.
“Wheelchair rugby is a sport that was specifically made for folks who do have a physical disability. You have to have an impairment in all four extremities—so both your legs and your arms in order to play,” Program Manager Katie Joly told NBC Connecticut.
“Coming out and pushing every Sunday and going to practice really gets everything, new muscles, moving and stuff,” said Delysle. “It’s fun to get back to competition.”