Rugby is a violent and exciting sport where players’ bodies are colliding at full speed in an effort to get the ball over the line to score.
Now put those players in wheelchairs, and the collisions become a meld of flesh, bone and metal.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that this sport was originally called “murderball.”
Created in Canada, wheelchair rugby is played on a hard court and derives its rules from rugby, basketball, ice hockey and handball. It has also spread to 26 different countries, including Colombia.
Jan Sochor, a 39-year-old photographer from the Czech Republic, discovered that “murderball” is more than sport for players in Colombia. It is a way for disabled men in the South American country to show how strong they are physically and mentally.
Sochor’s black-and-white photos were taking during games and training sessions for a group of men who hope to represent Colombia at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Wheelchair rugby is a very rough game for die-hard men,” Sochor said. It “does not matter how heavy their disability is. They play the game like if it was a fight for life. The light and shadow contrasts helped me to express the raw and rough feel of the game, to show the harshness of these moments.”
Many of the players have spinal-cord injuries that limit the use of their limbs, but they have specially designed wheelchairs, including a front bumper, that allow them to ram into opposing players.
Although the Arcangeles Foundation in Bogota, Colombia, supports the team, many of the players work on the streets to make a living. They often come from remote, socially deprived areas around the city.
“Tough men,” Sochor said, “working on the street, a majority of them with no social support or a pension. They know how to fight; they know how to take care (of) themselves. Much respect to all of them.”
Sochor intentionally shot the action to create blurry imagery. He wanted to highlight the pace and ferocity of the action.
“Wheelchair rugby is surprisingly fast, and I wanted to capture the acceleration and motion of particular players,” he said. “During the game, I was virtually running all the time next to the players, trying to get close enough and shooting pictures on the run. Sometimes, I felt so exhausted, like if I was playing with them.”
He hopes people understand the courage of the players through his images. He wanted to show their will to win as well as their will to live life to the fullest despite their physical limitations.
“I could not believe … disabled men can find such an energy and power to play while they were apparently suffering the pain due to their body dysfunctionalities,” Sochor said.
“I saw incredible moments when a man that does not control his arm movement grabbed the ball with that arm. A victory of the human will.”
- Larry Frum, Special to CNN