Able-bodied persons feel the need to react to him in the common way.
Pity the man in the worn-out wheelchair.
But don’t dare try it with Chad Farrington, a 25-year-old quadraplegic whose liftime allotment of self-pity probably could squeeze into the axle on his wheelchair.
“After 5 minutes of talking to me, if they still feel sorry for me, then I’m probably not going to like them,” Farrington says matter-of-factly, the way he generally responds to questions about his disability.
Help him lift himself out of his car? Wheel him across the street? Don’t push it.
“I usually just thank them and do it myself,” he says. “Making my bed. That’s what I have trouble with. The room is small, I can’t get around the bed.”
And never, ever assist him on the quadraplegic rugby field, unless, of course, it’s to dish him the ball seconds before his attempt to score.
Farrington has been concentrating on his rugby skills for about a year now. He’s already earned the reputation of being very good at the rigorous sport that is played on a basketball court. But unlike wheelchair basketball, Farrington says, this game is “not for wimps.”
Quad rugby is played with four players on each team. Players use either an offensive or defensive chair, both custom made for the 18-year-old sport.
The offensive chairs are built with wings at the base of the frame, giving the ball carriers the advantage of pushing through. Farrington is typically a ball carrier.
He became intrigued with the sport in January 1995 when he saw it being played while in Denver to undergo an operation. The operation was one in a series of five that Farrington, who lives in Lewiston, has been forced to endure since he broke his neck in seven places when he was the driver in a motorcycle accident on July 3, 1989.
Farrington’s best friend, riding on the back of the bike, died in the wreck. Farrington, who admits drinking and driving too fast played a major part in the accident, has been confined to a wheelchair. He did not completely severe his spinal cord and has little sensation from the waist down.
He can move his arms and left hand and can extend, but not flex, his right hand.
“I don’t remember two days before or 30 days after it happened,” Farrington said.
For the first five years, Farrington, who drives to Spokane once or twice a week to practice and play quad rugby, had little direction. But he never copped a “why me?” attitude.
“I’d push myself around. That’s about as physical as I got,” he said.
“I was a rebel without a clue.”
A rebel with a reputation for liking contact sports.
Quad rugby is a sport in which contact is legal and encouraged. Farrington, a former football player, was a natural.
“It’s amazing how good he’s gotten so quickly and how far he’s gotten in the sport so fast,” said Teresa Skinner, who coaches Farrington’s Dukes of St. Luke’s team and is an occupational therapist at Southcrest Hospital and St. Luke’s Rehab Institute.
Farrington’s skills have earned him a chance to play internationally. Beginning July 10 and lasting two weeks, Farrington and Skinner will travel to Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand, where a U.S. team will compete against the New Zealand and Australian national teams.
The Americans will serve as an informal warm-up act for the other two teams, both invited to compete in the Paralympics immediately following the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Farrington tried out for the U.S. Paralympic team, a first-time demonstration sport in Atlanta, but missed the cut. Eight players out of 42 candidates were selected. Twelve who weren’t picked for Atlanta were chosen to travel to New Zealand.
He says his goal is to be selected for the U.S. Paralympic team that will compete in Melbourne, Australia, in 2000.
For now, Farrington will play for the Dukes of St. Lukes, beginning with a Labor Day weekend tournament in San Diego. The Dukes play an average of 12 tournaments per year in cities as near as Seattle and as distant as Tampa, Fla. There are 53 teams nationwide.
And if Farrington doesn’t make it to Melbourne four years from now, don’t feel sorry for him. He’ll get over it.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo