Thirty-year-old Ernie Chun likes to run into people in wheelchairs. When he’s playing professional wheelchair rugby, that is. As Will2Walk’s latest recipient of a Life Enhancement Grant and newest member of the 2013 USA Wheelchair Rugby National Team, Ernie demonstrates how those with quadriplegia can maintain a high level of activity with a lot of dedication and hard work.
Injured in December 1996 in a surfing accident in his home state of Hawaii, Ernie broke his neck and is a C5-7 incomplete. Prior to his accident, he was very competitive and played a variety of sports.
As Ernie slowly adjusted to living with an SCI at only 14-years-old, he began to explore wheelchair racing, completing the Honolulu Marathon and numerous others. Wheelchair tennis then provided the opportunity to leave the islands and travel with his team, which quickly built his independence.
“If I could offer any advice to the newly injured, it would be to find a group of peers, a support group,” notes Ernie. “I recommend sports to others because I learned many life lessons from my teammates in those early years.”
After discovering wheelchair rugby, Ernie was recruited to play Division 2 rugby and made the big move from Hawaii to Tennessee to play on the TNT team. He worked on his skills, speed and endurance over four years, and then relocated to Phoenix for a chance to play on the Division 1 Phoenix Fusion team, which has four Paralympians on its roster.
“Rugby is a contact sport, and equipment is one of our biggest issues,” notes Ernie. “My rugby chair is four years old and has been welded over ten times and even broken once.”
Due to the higher level of play and more strenuous practices, games and tournaments at the Division 1 level, Ernie was forced to borrow a friend’s chair for this season. In need of a new chair, Ernie applied for various grants, including a Will2Walk Life Enhancement Grant, which he heard about through a friend. After being awarded a partial grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation and a $3,000 Life Enhancement Grant, Ernie was able to purchase a VMC rugby chair, which he received on December 12, 2012. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to break in his new chair before the National Team tryouts December 14, but Ernie has now begun using it at practice.
“Will2Walk’s help in getting my new rugby chair is going to allow me to take my playing to the next level,” emphasizes Ernie. “Now that I’ve achieved my goal of earning a spot on the National Team, becoming a Paralympian is within reach—now is my time.”
To read the news story on the National Team being announced, click here.