Rugby - Paralympic
"I think it's huge whether or not you want to play competitively or just get out and do it. I think it's life-changing for anyone - the healthier you are the better your life is."
For many people, the prospect of trying a new sport that was the subject of a documentary called "Murderball" would be far too intimidating. Regina's Miranda Biletski, on the other hand, thought the prospect was just to die for.
Biletski had been active in sports her whole life before breaking her neck in a diving accident when she was 16. Three months after her accident she saw Murderball, which focuses on the full-contact sport of wheelchair rugby.
"I know it sounds a little intimidating, but I was like, 'Oh, I kind of want to give that a try," she said. "All my cousins are boys. I also have an older brother and they all played football. So I was kind of the tackling dummy growing up, so I'm definitely into the contact nature of the sport."
Rugby is certainly a male-dominated sport, another factor you'd think would intimidate Biletski. However, she was welcomed to the sport with open arms and soon fell in love with the game.
"I think girls are little bit worried about what other people think, but I mean it's a co-ed sport. The people in the sport are great people and your teammates will make you fall in love with it," she said. "A lot of people think wheelchair rugby just involves a lot of big hits, but it's a big chess game; it is pretty tactical."
From the beginning, the benefits of wheelchair rugby for Biletski expanded off the court, helping her adjust to life in a wheelchair.
"Sports made the transition way easier," she said. "Being physically active and physically fit is huge for anyone coming from the disability standpoint. It's the difference between independence and no independence."
For Biletski, it wasn't long before wheelchair rugby became more than a hobby. She became a member of the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby team since 2009 and has been with it ever since. During her time on the team, it has routinely competed at a high level.
In 2009, the team won a bronze medal at the American Zonals. In 2010, Canada took home silver at the Four Nations and fifth at the World Championships. Biletski and the Canadians took home two more medals in 2013 (silver at the American Zonals and bronze at the World Challenge. However, it was the recent World Championships that stand out to Biletsk, where Canada won a silver medal.
"We were the No. 3 ranked team going in. We knocked off the U.S. in the semi's and they were the No. 1 so that felt pretty good," she said. "We were a little disappointed with the silver. We basically improved our world ranking, which is good."
Along with knocking off a No. 1 ranked team, Biletski said the event has given the team motivation going into the 2015 Pan Am games in Rio.
Training for events like these, however, is no easy feat, especially when Biletski is also studying sports management in Victoria.
"I mean we spend hours a week going over video and kind of analyzing things, another 20 to 25 hours a week of training. It's a pretty heavy workload. It's like a fulltime job," she said. "Caffeine helps. Lots of caffeine. It's been a balancing act learning the schedule."
It's a balance Biletski knows she won't be able to maintain forever. Biletski said wheelchair rugby takes its toll on her body and her career will only last as long as her body holds up. After retiring, however, she wants to continue working in sports. The benefits are endless, she feels.
"I think it's huge whether or not you want to play competitively or just get out and do it. I think it's life-changing for anyone - the healthier you are the better your life is," Biletski said. "Saskatchewan athletes in particular make you feel like you're in this own kind of club and family. I encourage anyone to go out and try sports. In Saskatchewan we're pretty resilient, and if you're willing to give it a go we have great resources here and a lot of really cool mentors to help you out along the way."
Biletski shares message of perseverance