The latest extreme sport is played by some of the world’s toughest athletes —in wheelchairs. It’s called murderball, a sport that can only be described as a combination of football, hockey, basketball and soccer. Played on a basketball court with a volleyball, players collide with each other at high speeds to steal the ball.
Filmmaker Dana Shapiro worked with murderball athlete Mark Zupan to create a documentary about the sport. The film not only portrays the intense action, but it also brings awareness, proving that being disabled does not equate a loss of ability or passion for life.
On Thursday, ‘Scarborough Country’ host Joe Scarborough spoke with Shapiro and Zupan about how players go from severely injured to super competitive.
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the “Launch” button above and to the right.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Who thought of this sport? How did it start up? How did you get involved?
MARK ZUPAN: It was invented in Canada in the late ‘70s. I got involved competitively in 1996 when one of my therapists said, “I have a game you probably will be good at.” Her boyfriend at the time played, so he brought me down, I started playing, and I‘ve been playing ever since.
SCARBOROUGH: Dana, what was your biggest shock? I mean, you went into this thing not knowing what you were going to find out. And you went into this world that, again, probably 99 percent of Americans don‘t know about. What did you come away with? What will Americans come away with that see this film?
DANA SHAPIRO: I think people definitely see the chair as an albatross or a liability. You definitely see it as a detriment. And, as you hang around with these guys, you start to realize that, at times, it can really be a plus.
When you go to bars with them, they have a much easier time meeting girls as a result of the chair. The sport that they play is as violent as anything I have ever seen and as competitive. It was interesting to hear a lot of these guys say they wouldn‘t take back their accident if they could.
And that's just something I thought was some sort of therapy line that they had to believe. Towards the end of the film, it was something that I knew that they did believe. The ones who said it — Zupan, for one — said “it‘s the best thing that ever happened to me.” And that's pretty mind-blowing to hear.
SCARBOROUGH: Mark, why do you say that?
ZUPAN: Because it is the best thing that's happened. I have been to more countries. I‘ve met more people. I've done more things. I have had a heck of a lot of fun in 12 years. Now I am fortunate enough to be part of a documentary. I mean, it's been fun. I have gotten to go to the Paralympics. I have a medal from the Paralympics. I have been able to compete all over the world.
SCARBOROUGH: And you talk about your social life and your sex life in this film. Is that part of blowing away the stereotypes about paraplegics and quadriplegics?
ZUPAN: They are questions that people want to know. They just won't ask. And the movie does such a great job answering those questions about sex. A lot of the times, people won‘t come up and ask you about it. Sometimes, they will if you are at the bar. And girls get curious.
SCARBOROUGH: Did your family and friends think you were crazy when you got involved with a sport called murderball?
ZUPAN: Actually, no. My family and friends kind of understand the way I think and the way we play. My mom is like, “All right, if that's what you like to do, I trust that you are going to do well at what you put your mind towards.”
SCARBOROUGH: Dana, you say that this sport is one of the most violent sports you have ever seen?
SHAPIRO: Yes. I mean, these guys describe it as kill the man with the ball, bumper cars. But it's like bumper cars without the bumpers. We got into the chairs and played a round with these guys, and it was like being in a shopping cart and smashing into a wall. There is no rubber. There is no shock absorption. You are in this chair, which is plated with metal, with a grill. And when you hit, you hit pretty hard. And you flip over, and you are strapped in. And you can‘t get back up. Yes, it was, let‘s just say, that a lot of them are lucky that they can‘t feel parts of their body, because when they hit it, it hurts.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, just talking to Mark right now, hearing about some of these other athletes, it just sounds like nobody is sitting back looking at themselves as victims. It looks like they are focusing on people to victimize.
SHAPIRO: Definitely. I mean, I think the inclination to hold the door for these guys or to pat them on the back and sort of say, "hey, good for you, you know, it's just so good to see you doing something" might come from a good place. But it's a pretty condescending attitude because you are setting the bar pretty low for what they should be able to do.
We never wanted to make a film that was sort of, you know, cue the violins, up with people, this pat-on-the-back type of thing. We made a movie that reflected these guys. And the inspiration really was that they really reject people holding the door for them and treating them with kid gloves.
SCARBOROUGH: Mark, is that the worst thing somebody can do for you, is try to treat you like a victim, try to hold the door open for you, look into your eyes and try to show you pity?
ZUPAN: Well, yes, it's annoying. I have done more than a lot of people. You know what‘s bad is when they come up and they say “Your life must be just so hard.” My life hard? I feel bad for you? It's funny, because we were in San Francisco, and I was holding the door for a lady. And the lady was like “No, no, you can‘t hold the door for me.” I was like, why not? I am not going anywhere. You better go inside the bar, because I will sit out here all night.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you have a message? What is the message you want to get out, not only through this film and also through murderball, but what message do you want to get out to Americans tonight about yourself, about others like you, and about quadriplegics?
ZUPAN: Treat me like I am a normal person. Don't treat me like I am special. Don't think that you need to hold the door or you need to push me up a hill. If I need help, I will ask. Also, I am an athlete. I am a Paralympic athlete. I train as hard as an Olympic athlete. We just don‘t get the recognition. We are normal. We are normal people. Just treat us normally.
SCARBOROUGH: Mark, final question. What's next for you? When is the next big competition?
ZUPAN: The next big competition is 2006 in Christchurch, New Zealand. It's the world championships. So, we need to go in and take our gold back, so we are placed number one going into the Paralympics for Beijing in 2008.