VANCOUVER – Duncan Campbell, one of the inventors of wheelchair rugby back in the 1970s who dedicated his adult life to the sport, announced Wednesday he is retiring from his official role as national development director at Wheelchair Rugby Canada (WRC).
The 64-year-old Campbell, who held the position for more than a decade, plans to dedicate his time to his two young daughters Macy and Kenzie and his partner Lara Heller of more than 25 years.
‘’My two girls are four and six and they are ready to get into their activities and go to school and I’m at the stage I should have some time to spend with them and get them where they need to go,’’ he said in an interview with Paralympic.ca.
As the national development director for Wheelchair Rugby Canada, Campbell worked on many projects.
‘’It was a multi-faceted role,’’ he said. ‘’It comprised of developing programs to help the system grow, recruiting talent, designing an athlete pathway to maintain that talent and expanding our network.’’
When Campbell started his last role with WRC, there were only six clubs for the sport in Canada. Now it has more than doubled and the sport has grown exponentially not only in Canada but around the world.
‘’The highlight for me in that position is the individuals who were encouraged to get in the game, to watch them develop and see how the game helped them,’’ he said. ‘’I knew they would appreciate and like the sport as well as improve their life.
‘’When you get involved in sport with a spinal cord injury you learn how to do things you might not thought you would have been able to do and show that you can be strong and adapt.’’
He has been enormously successful throughout his long career in developing the sport across the country, with Canada becoming a powerhouse in wheelchair rugby earning silver at the 2004 and 2012 Paralympics and bronze in 2008.
A member of the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame as a builder since 2005, he was also inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame last year.
Back in the 1970s at age 17, after he was injured in a diving accident and left paralyzed from the waist down, Campbell wanted to play a team sport that was specific for quadriplegics. With a background in hockey, of course, he was eager to develop a physical game.
Living in Winnipeg at the time he and four other individuals designed wheelchair rugby at a physical therapy clinic.
But he never imagined it would one day be in the Paralympic Games and have a national program with all the bells and whistles that entails. The sport was originally called ‘’murderball’’ but the name wasn’t popular with potential funding partners so it was changed.
‘’We just wanted to have a game that was a lot of fun for people with a disability who didn’t have access to a team sport,’’ said Campbell, who coached Canada to a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Paralympics where the sport made its official Games debut.
‘’We never dreamed it would be in the Paralympic Games. But it took off, it was the fastest growing sport for a while for quads.’’
As a sports innovator, Campbell can’t pinpoint one specific memory as his favourite, he is just pleased he’s made a difference in people’s lives.
‘’I’m going to remember everything,’’ he said. ‘’It’s the work of my whole life. It’s been part of me for over 40 years. There are a number of people that I worked with, played with, and travelled with that are going to stand out.
‘’It’s massive for me in terms of memories.’’