USA Wheelchair Rugby player Jeff Butler is all about mobility. He’s spent most of his life learning about it, whether during the rehabilitation process after a spinal cord injury as a teenager or on the court playing wheelchair rugby. Since graduating from the University of Texas in information systems management, he is focused on the future of mobility – an interesting topic when you consider how mobile Butler is in his sports chair playing wheelchair rugby.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1990, Butler has been playing the sport since his college days. He was first introduced to wheelchair rugby by a friend after a traffic accident at age 13 that resulted in a broken neck at C5-6. He fell in love with the sport while watching his first game; the intensity of the game really got his attention.
After his first year at Indiana University and traveling two hours each way to Indianapolis to play with a club team, he transferred to the University of Texas and joined a team in Austin where he’s played since. While at Texas, Butler’s primary goal was to work hard to make the Paralympic team.
In 2010 he started trying out for the U.S. team, and after graduating from college in 2014, he made the roster the following year. Two years later Butler was a member of the team that won the silver medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio after a double overtime, one-point loss in the gold medal match with Australia.
Now Butler and his teammates are focused on the Tokyo Paralympic Games, which were postponed for one year. Last December, USAWR announced the 16 members of the Training Squad who have been training individually since the coronavirus pandemic. Team staff have spent the last few months re-working training schedules and plans.
While Butler is focused with his sights on Tokyo, he also has some work to do in his professional life. He has been accepted to Stanford and will pursue his MBA after Tokyo. This will be the second time he’s made a big life change in a Paralympic year. In 2016 he started his first company, a telehealth startup to help people in rural and underserved communities. Looking to the future, Butler is excited about the future of mobility issues, especially for people with physical disabilities. The company where he currently works, VMI, allows him to focus on solving those mobility issues. Butler says by looking at new transportation models, self-driving automobiles, and electric vehicles there will be some great opportunities to improve the lives of people with disability. In order to be successful in his career, Butler may have to take some time away from wheelchair rugby. But he is not ruling out a tryout to make the Paris 2024 U.S. Paralympic team.
For Butler and all of the wheelchair rugby players, it is tough balancing work and training. Unlike national team athletes in most countries, U.S. athletes do not receive any government funding; therefore community funding is vital. Show your support for Jeff and his teammates by making a gift during the Giving Games, now until August 9. Learn more about all the ways you can participate and cheer on our U.S. athletes at giving-games.com.
USA Wheelchair Rugby is managed by Lakeshore Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on physical activity, research and advocacy for people with physical disabilities. Gifts to USA Wheelchair Rugby are made through Lakeshore Foundation. To learn more about USAWR at Lakeshore, visit the website.