Longform

Murderball

Page 3 of 7


It's Thursday morning in the rehabilitation room at St. Joseph's Hospital, and a 14-year-old boy wants Hogsett and Cohn to show him how they jump curbs. They oblige, hopping their chairs on and off a berm in a corner of the room, and the boy is impressed. He's been in the hospital since November, when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a nervous system disorder. Today he and a handful of spinal-injury patients have gathered to meet Hogsett and Cohn, who make regular appearances at St. Joe's to talk to recently injured patients about what life in a wheelchair is like.

Hogsett's life, he tells them, is very good.

"I'm not going to tell you being in a wheelchair doesn't suck," he says, "because there are times it really does. But I've done everything. I've traveled to Europe, I water ski, I go dancing, I date. It's all about attitude."

Ten years ago, Hogsett was at a party in Idaho when he reprimanded an inebriated guest for puking on the wall in the living room. The man's response was to throw Hogsett off a 10-foot balcony onto a pile of rocks, breaking his neck, then rush down after him for the follow-up, a sucker punch that severed Hogsett's spinal cord.

Today, Hogsett is a "lowpointer," classified as 1.0. His triceps, along with muscles in his legs and trunk, are paralyzed; the strength he draws upon when he thrusts the front bumper of his chair into another player's wheels comes solely from his biceps -- and his guts -- which he shows a lot of on the court.

Hogsett is open when expressing his frustrations during games, and will lay into another player when he feels the team is being let down. His face on the court is as expressive as a cartoon character, all grimaces, snarls, gnashing teeth and clenched jaws.

"I'm a little harsh on the court with them sometimes," he admits, "but I have to be. I know that when the game is over, we'll still be friends."

Hogsett was an athlete before his injury, a baseball player. It's rugby, though, that he says is a near-perfect fit for him. "The passion of the game is what I like about it. It's all about heart. I feel lucky when I go out there because not too many people get to live like this, doing something they love."

Hogsett gave the Heat its name four years ago, and gives it his blood on a regular basis. "It's a tough game. I've had surgeries on both my elbows because of rugby," he says. "My arms are always all torn up." He twists his arms to reveal scratches and scabs that riddle his slight forearms. "Rugby is a huge sport," he goes on. "It brings back the ego and gives me that outlet to go out and release some aggression. I need that."



When not playing rugby, Hogsett, another "Settlement Boy," is only slightly more sedate. He's got a Tiger Beat look to him -- deep blue eyes, chiseled features and tousled blond hair -- and he knows it. "Seriously," he says, his eyes peeking over the top of his sunglasses, "my friends say I get more ass than any guy they know."

He's the first to admit that sports and sex are what he lives for, and in both areas disability makes it all a little more interesting. Hogsett and his friends often ruminate, no matter who's around, about the rivalry between paraplegics and quadriplegics, which goes beyond the obvious difference between a broken back and a broken neck. "Paras think they have it so good because they have full use of their hands," he says. "They hate us quads because we can get boners and they can't. Frankly, I'd take a boner over hands any day."

But to hear him talk, it sounds like Hogsett's two biggest interests -- the game and the girls -- sometimes collide. Romance, it seems, is an uneven path with no curb-cuts for guys in chairs. Hogsett was engaged once to a girl he describes as "cute, nice, and normal . . . a flight attendant," but backed out a few months before the marriage.

"I'm not ready to settle down yet," he says. "And besides, the next two years are pretty much all about rugby."




Off the court, Mike Gilliland, 26, is charmingly shy. He has short dark hair and eyebrows he uses to punctuate his conversation. He speaks softly and smiles reluctantly, as if indulging in a guilty pleasure. His eyes fill with light when he laughs, then cloud and drift away when he talks about events of the past year.

Gilliland was 5 when he began to have trouble walking, the result of an undiagnosed muscular disorder that caused the gradual degeneration of his ankles, hands and lower back.

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Susy Buchanan