Wheelchair rugby is a physically demanding, strategic and full-contact sport to play, and Eric Newby is a hardcore player. But you wouldn’t think that if you met him. His teammates say he’s the nicest jerk you’d ever meet, but Newby adds his fellow players usually choose a more colorful word than jerk.
Newby was born in Alton, Illinois and his hometown is Bailey, Colorado. He graduated from Maryville University of St. Louis in graphic design and was later married to the love of his life, Megan. But back in 2006, at the age of 18, he was in a traffic accident that paralyzed him from the chest down. During his rehabilitation process, one of his physical therapists told him about the documentary Murderball, and he was determined to check out the sport. Newby later met the coach of the St. Louis Rams Wheelchair Rugby team, and the day he was released from rehabilitation, he went to his first practice.
His introduction to the sport wasn’t without difficulty, but he was hooked and now has a special appreciation for wheelchair rugby. Newby says wheelchair rugby also helps with everyday life. His increased strength helps him on the court as well as with everyday tasks.
In order to qualify to play wheelchair rugby, athletes must have a disability that affects their arms and legs. Each team member receives a classification number ranging from 0.0, which indicates the least amount of physical function, to 3.5, indicating the most amount of function. Newby is classified as a 2.0, also called a mid-pointer.
As 2009 rolled around, Newby trained hard in preparation to try out for the U.S. team. Unfortunately, it was a rough tryout, and he realized how far away he was from the elite level. But he didn’t let it deter him. The feeling of being cut became motivation for him. Newby’s athleticism and dedication later earned him a spot on the USA Wheelchair Rugby Team, and in 2013 he was named the U.S. Quad Rugby Association’s (USQRA) player of the year.
Since then he’s played in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, where the U.S. team won the silver medal in a double-overtime loss to Australia. Newby was also part of the 2014 team that won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Now his focus is getting back to the championship game at the Tokyo Paralympic Games next summer.
So amongst all the training, workouts and intense pressure, how does Newby decompress off the court? That’s easy. He cheers on his beloved hometown St. Louis Cardinals, watches the NBA – especially his favorite player LeBron James and hangs out with his wife and nine-month-old daughter Rory. While the coronavirus pandemic has created challenges to training it has given Newby more time to spend with his family. Team staff have revamped their training schedules and players have grown accustomed to meeting online. Everyone hopes to be back at Lakeshore Foundation soon – the team’s home training center. Then it’s time to focus on the Paralympic Games and bringing home the gold!
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.