Roller Derby

Wheelchair basketball is for wussies. And park your pity at the door. Welcome to quad rugby, where quadriplegics slam their opponents into the hardwood.

South Houston High School presented Alan Bailey with an outstanding alumnus award. "Pity," he says, his voice filled with disgust. "People look at me and pity me. They feel bad for the poor guy in the chair -- being in a wheelchair is the least of my problems."

Rolling down the driveway to get his mail doesn't bother him. It bothers him that he can't ride a Harley or sit on a boat and fish in the sun all day. It bothers him that he can't stand up to pull his pants on. It bothers him that when he's driving in the rain he knows he's going to get drenched getting out of the car because it takes him several minutes to pull the wheels out of the backseat, attach them to the chair, put up the brakes, transfer into the chair and then close the door.

On the court, players smash, bash and crash into one another.
Daniel Kramer
On the court, players smash, bash and crash into one another.

At rugby games no one pities him, he says; they understand him. "I know every fucker out here," Alan says gesturing at 50-some quadriplegic rugby players gathered at a Pasadena tournament. He knows all of their wives and girlfriends and children and dogs and asks about them by name. At rugby meets, the people who can walk and use their hands are the freaks, says his wife, Marsha Bailey. "It's a wheelchair world," she says.

On the sidelines, Alan swallows a red and yellow diet pill to get an energy boost before the match. "It's the only way I can get through the game," he says. Other players swig sports drinks and take over-the-counter truck driver stimulants filled with fat-burning ephedra for extra energy.

Recently renamed the Pasadena Texans, Alan's team is playing the San Diego Sharp Edge on the second day of a three-day tournament. They have to win this game to qualify for the championship.

Alan smashes his gloved hands against his metal wheels. "Let's go," he says.

On the court spokes break, tires deflate and players are knocked flat on their back or facedown into others' laps. Steve holds on to the ball with both hands and wheels with his bloody, scarred-up elbows. Three players on the other team trap him. He doesn't have room to dribble the ball or anyone to pass it to.

Racing down the court, David screams for a time-out.

On the sidelines Steve drenches himself with water. "Want the ball," Steve tells him. "Want the ball."

Out of breath, David tells him he tried but he just couldn't get there fast enough. Steve's five-year-old daughter brings him a bottle of water. Steve sweetly thanks her then turns to his teammates.

"Guys, put somebody over," Steve says. "Nail somebody -- legal or not -- just fucking hit them."

Alan smashes into the guy holding the ball, who swerves and continues three feet down the court, where Jamie knocks into him. There are four seconds on the clock when Jamie backs across the goal line and scores.

Every time they score the Texans seem too tired and run-down to prevent the other team from scoring. They're losing.

Steve is so angry he throws the volleyball at the back of another player. He takes himself out of the game. Alan looks up at the scoreboard -- he thinks Steve is giving up on the team. He throws a water bottle at Steve and rolls back onto the court.

Alan's out of breath, he has to pee, and his face is getting redder and redder. Quads can't control their bladders, and if he doesn't get a catheter and relieve himself, his blood pressure could skyrocket and cause a stroke. But a distended bladder, Alan says, gives him an extra energy burst. "A quad will piss on himself in a game before he will take himself out," Alan says. "I'm so fucking pumped, I'm gonna kick some motherfucker's ass -- if I don't win this rugby match I'm gonna get in a fistfight."

Back on the court, David pushes a player out of bounds and scores. Steve catches the ball and scores. But it isn't enough; they lose the game by four points.

Alan goes home, lies down on his bed and changes into dry clothes. Then he drives himself back to the gym and plays another game.

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