During his 12 years playing wheelchair rugby for Team USA, 35-year old Joe Delagrave has experienced triumphs and disappointments on rugby courts across the country and around the world. He’s hoping that with a lot of hard work and patience, year 13 will bring a little luck too, and help the team win gold in Tokyo.
Delagrave makes his home in Wisconsin, where he grew up and currently lives with his wife and three children, two sons and a daughter. In addition to being a husband, father and captain of the rugby team, he’s also a motivational speaker.
Before Delagrave’s rugby playing days he was heavily involved with sports, playing basketball and football. But in 2004, at age 18, he had a life-changing event that took his sports and personal life in a whole new direction. While enjoying a day on the river with friends, he was sitting in a boat when he suddenly flew backwards and hit his head. The fall broke his neck and left him paralyzed from the chest down. Delagrave had been playing sports his whole life and was determined to find something he could play and be active. His search ended In 2006 he found out about wheelchair rugby and returned to the field of competition.
“Playing wheelchair rugby makes me feel alive,” Delagrave says. “You love the sport, you love the competition, and you love the mentorship that come with it,” he adds. Delagrave continued perfecting his game for several more years and earned a spot on Team USA to play in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. The team fell short and returned home with the bronze medal.
The team instantly set their sights on Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Paralympic Games would take place. But Delagrave ended up not making the team for Rio. A devastating setback, however he devoted himself to becoming a better leader and teammate.
Delagrave worked on helping build a better culture and chemistry for the next four years, and after being named to the 2020 team, the pandemic would delay the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo for another year. The inability to travel caused disruption for team training camps, but the players have remained busy with individual workouts in their hometowns and team meetings online.
In addition to team duties, Delagrave has been busy hosting a weekly podcast called Captain’s Chat. “It’s been a great way of bringing the rugby community together while we’re apart because of the pandemic, “ Delagrave said. “Since we don’t see each other at events, it’s a great way to come together. We feature a new guest each week and hear about their journey in sport and life, especially in relation to COVID 19,” he added. Delagrave says they also talk a lot about the rehabilitative part of rugby, how it helps get someone’s confidence back or gets a newly injured athlete back on the court.
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.