Jon Sigworth ’10 and Austin Purnell ’08 are going to India this September-December to introduce Murderball (wheelchair rugby) and hopefully open up people’s eyes to a healthy and enjoyable solution to people with limited upper body function and often restrictive lifestyle. They will also be creating a documentary about their experiences and are in need of some funding. As Austin writes:
At the end of the school year I became acquainted with Jonathan Sigworth (Wesleyan ’10) who explained how his life was forever altered from a spinal injury he incurred while visiting India. Last Christmas Jon and other volunteers went back to Delhi to establish India’s first and only competitive wheelchair rugby team.
In 14 days I will be traveling with Jon, his mother, and three others for the second leg of this project. I will be there for 100 days (Sep 1-Dec 20) both helping Jon establish a second rugby team in Pune, and documenting the entire situation of quadriplegics in India, with the hope that they can be afforded the same level of independence and opportunity enjoyed by many disabled persons here. We are applying for a number of film grants (D.C./CT Arts, Sundance Docs, etc. and sponsorships (Modell’s Sporting Goods, Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation, The Sports Authority etc.)
I’ve been working films, collaborating with my sister’s one-woman production company (Packing Light Ltd!) and honing my cinematography skills all summer, and I also want to see what India is all about. This is my first long term project on the other side of the camera, but it’s just the thing that could both get me started (somewhat) in the world of film, and catalyze concrete positive changes for dozens of people in the process. And rest assured that I’ll be BLASTING out the periodic facebook travel notes full steam while abroad. Yall know how i do!…lol. So I promise to keep you in the loop.
As of today, I have about $3,500 left to raise in order to fund the entire stay, so I’m calling on nearly everyone I have ever known to help us in this effort.
Doors of Opportunity
For quite some time in the United States persons with a variety of spinal cord injuries have enjoyed the pursuit of good health and independent living through team athletics. So, when Wesleyan University student Jonathan Sigworth returned to India’s Spinal Injury Center one year after his life-altering injury, he was frustrated to find that India’s quadriplegic persons are all but confined to a sedentary lifestyle. Moreover, there was not a single peer mentor who could help facilitate a robust rehabilitation program. To Jon, the spread of wheelchair rugby –– known to many as “murderball” –– naturally presented itself as a healthy and enjoyable solution to the lack of lifestyle options available to spinal cord-injured persons, especially in the developing world. Murderball is a team sport for those who have limited upper body function. Such populations include quad-amputees, people with C4 to C7 spinal cord injuries, and those suffering from a variety of inherited and acquired degenerative nerve and skin disorders, who for such reasons are not able to compete in wheelchair sports geared toward paraplegics. For these people, participation in sports represents a key opportunity, for athletics can not only prepare them to face and overcome the challenges present in India’s inaccessible society, but murderball in particular builds team solidarity and a healthy heart. Murderball can be a catalyst for networking among peers and a channel through which persons with disabilities can build the social capital necessary to demand equal access, treatment, and further prospects for independent living from their society.
Rugby as a Liberator
Two days after Christmas 2007, the first Empowering Spinal Cord Injured Persons (ESCIP) project team, led by Jonathan Sigworth and his mother Vicky, successfully carried ten high-performance wheelchairs donated from individuals all over the USA to New Delhi, where they were manually re-outfitted to be used as rugby chairs. Over the course of a three-week clinic, the India Spinal-Injury Center (ISIC) staff, local disabled athletes, and spinal-injury patients were introduced to this full-contact wheelchair sport. All of this was enabled by a generous grant from the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation. The ISIC still hosts practices for the New Delhi Bullz-Eyez, India’s first and only wheelchair rugby team.
On September 1, 2008, I will join a new four-person ESCIP project team and travel to Delhi for fifteen weeks to execute a documentary film project currently titled Advocates for Murderball in India (AMI).
The AMI project has two primary objectives. First, we will establish a second Indian wheelchair rugby team for quadriplegics at a military rehabilitation center in the city of Pune, just outside of Mumbai. Second, we will work to produce a short film showcasing the struggles and triumphs of Indian quadriplegics and how involvement in rugby has affected their lives. The Advocates for Murderball in India preview trailer will be distributed to hospitals, clinics, and disabled communities throughout India by January 2009. Jonathan Sigworth will then develop a final version of the film into his Wesleyan University senior thesis in film.
100 Days in India
For several months, Vicky Sigworth has been coordinating the rugby activities in Pune and will continue doing so during the month of September. Her son Jonathan will instruct the new rugby team and oversee an experienced three-person film and logistics crew (Spencer Sheridan, Austin Purnell, Chi Lee), while they outfit new chairs and attempt to document the Indian quadriplegic experience on camera.
In October Jonathan and Chi will begin film internships in Mumbai, home to the second most productive film industry in the world, where they will seek out further interest and resources for the AMI project while the filming continues in Pune and Delhi. ESCIP plans to bring several Paralympic rugby athletes to Delhi and Pune for instructional wheelchair rugby clinics with the newly formed teams, while editing begins for the documentary in November.
By mid-December, the first cut of the film will be released to contacts in Delhi, Pune, and Bangalore for distribution.
Solidifying the Future
If wheelchair rugby takes hold in India, the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWASF) will add murderball to the 2009 World Wheelchair Games in Bangalore. This will make India the first developing nation to participate in an international wheelchair rugby competition.
Every state in America has an established Wheelchair rugby association, some of whose members will enjoy competition on the international level. Please help us bring international athletic and social opportunities to India’s quadriplegic persons by supporting AMI’s proactive approach to filmmaking and social progress. Your contribution is absolutely paramount to our success. Please see below for information on how you can make a contribution.
Documentarian, Mid-Atlantic Associate
T: (301) 367 0698 from USA
Tax-deductible donations are being collected through Christian Educators Association International (CEAI). All donations should be labeled “AMI funds”. Your entire contribution will go towards funding the completion of this project.
By Credit Card:
Call Christian Educators Association International (Mon-Fri, 9 AM – 4 PM EST):
CEAI, P.O. Box 45610, Westlake, OH 44145
For more details please visit www.ESCIP.org or contact Vicky Sigworth at email@example.com.