By Ben Mills
, Coordinator for the Office of Access and Inclusion
Rugby is not a sport for the faint of heart—successful rugby players need to be strong, determined, and crafty.
Fortunately for the University of Arizona's quadriplegic rugby team, freshman Chelsea Falnes has found a way to balance the sport with her academic life. Falnes is a special education major who wants to become an elementary school special education instructor. She’s originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin but has loved being here in the desert.
“The weather is great,” she said. “The people here are friendly, and the transportation is much better [than back home].” She also said she found the instructors at the UA to be “very accommodating.”
Falnes earned a scholarship to play on UA’s inaugural collegiate quad rugby team, which is coached by Bryan Barten, who was a wheelchair tennis champion at UA. Falnes was recruited in November 2010 by Barten and her friend Nate Miller, who had already earned a spot on the team. In Wisconsin, she had played on a city team with Miller. Falnes was inspired to play by Paralympic athletes Jenn Poist and Kaitlyn Verfuerth.
Though the collegiate team is in its inaugural year, quad rugby is not a sport that is new to the UA. In fact, quad rugby came to the university in the late 1980s. The sport takes place on a regulation-sized basketball court, with four players from each team on the court at the same time. The participants must have impairment in at least three of their four limbs in order to qualify to play.
The basic rules of the game are simple: advance the ball into the opponent’s half-court and score in their goal. Of course, full contact is expected and encouraged. For more information on the team and the UA Adaptive Athletics Program please visit their web site at: http://drc.arizona.edu/athletics
Falnes plays offense for the team and is classified as a 3.0 player. In order to be eligible to play quad rugby, players must have extremity impairment and are assigned one of seven classification numbers. A 0.5 player, for example, is comparable to a C5 quadriplegic. Though Falnes is a 3.0 player, she is given a 2.5 classification because she plays on a coed team.
On top of practicing three times a week and hitting the gym at the Disability Resource Center, Falnes is also expected to keep her grades up and continue pursuing her education. Because of her strenuous game schedule, she needs to work ahead in order to travel to her tournaments.
“I always do homework a week before it’s due,” she said.
Studying efficiently and transitioning into college-level classes has been “a lot more challenging” than she had originally thought. Falnes was initially a photography major, though she ended up changing to special education due to trouble manipulating the photography equipment.
Now, however, she is happy to be a special education major and hopes one day to teach in Tucson. Though Falnes is enjoying her classes, if she could have another chance to prepare for her university studies, she would have taken higher level math classes and studied for her placement exams for college math and English.
Falnes also said she would have elected to live in the dorms instead of in off-campus housing. She believes that living on campus would have allowed her to connect more with the community and helped her with her time management. Right now, she currently shares a living space with her teammate.
For new students, Falnes offers this advice: “Use your study guides, and be sure to take general education classes that really interest you.”