Sgt. Finlahy Cortez-Powers never imagined playing wheelchair rugby. The Mortuary Affairs Specialist was introduced to adaptive sports last fall at the Fort Benning Soldier Recovery (SRU) unit after a back injury.
“In October 2022 I was at the range and left with several Soldiers in a van and we were hit by a vehicle on the highway that went through two stop signs. I was one of five who were injured,” said Cortez-Powers. But why would she want to entertain the idea of wheelchair rugby? She participated in the Army Recovery Care Program’s wheelchair rugby camp February 7 -9 at Fort Belvoir Virginia.
“It’s a great process. I’m getting more than what I thought, especially the camaraderie with the Soldiers from all over. We all have an injury or illness and we have so much in common!”
While she and her fellow SRU Soldiers learned the adaptive sport, they also learned that it’s much more than a physical activity. Fort Hood SRU Cadre, Executive officer, Captain Jessica Campion, who plays rugby agrees, adding she decided to come learn and share the knowledge.
“I have ten years’ experience playing rugby and when I saw this wheelchair rugby camp it looked very exciting! I wanted to come here and learn what our Soldiers are doing and bring it back to our unit at the Fort Hood SRU.”
Three days of drills and strategy sessions with Soldiers from eight SRU’s were challenging and therapeutic at the same time according to Cortez-Powers.
“It is amazing how much we can push ourselves to strive to be better. There’s a certain energy we share with each other as we all try to recover, it’s a win - win situation.”
Capt. Campion sees this adaptive sport as one of many winning opportunities for her Soldiers to heal and wheel into recovery.
“We’ve learned that wheelchair rugby has so many distinct aspects. The safety that is involved with it as far as hitting with the wheelchair is a big part. Then you have the ball, your teammates, the opposing team and your wheelchair to maneuver...It’s a lot to think about. The coaches did an amazing job of showing us how to play safely and it’s sending a message that Soldiers in Recovery, when cleared, can have a fun and productive time playing safely.”
Recognizing that many Soldiers may want to stay in their rooms at the SRU, she encourages trying something like wheelchair rugby to help beyond the physical conditioning to recover.
“I think it’s also great for mental health because you can focus on something else other than your appointments and your surgeries. You can focus on the person on your left and right and how to be there for each other. I can see that it gives the Soldiers a place to escape and just have a fun time.”
Fun times, fast wheels and confidence will follow Cortez-Powers home. Campion is excited to be the encouraging messenger for Soldiers at her SRU.
“I hope they know that in the SRU, when you are recovering you have an opportunity to do so much more and participate in something bigger than yourself. Not only in the SRU at your installation, but with other SRU’s and the Army as a whole. We can come together and work through anything. They should know at the SRU you have a whole team that has your back just like the one here at wheelchair rugby.”