James Simpson: WhRL, my proudest moments
Rugby League is renown for its crunching tackles and fast plays, but nothing is more hard-hitting than the back story which led to England international James Simpson, 31, into Wheelchair Rugby League. The Guiseley lad grew up a massive Leeds Rhinos fan and his now working his socks off promoting WhRL. I caught up with James to find out more about him and the sport!
1. What got you into WhRL?
"I was a soldier for 10 years and it was on my second tour of Afghanistan I triggered an Improvised explosive device which was buried in a ditch. It detonated underneath me and instantly took off both of my legs above the knee, ripped off part of my hand and took chunks of muscle out of my arms. My life was saved by the blokes around me who knew what they were doing in plugging all my leaks and getting me evacuated as fast as possible. I was awake for the whole thing and can remember most it. From there I came back to the UK and spent 10 weeks in hospital, some in an induced coma, then moved onto to the rehab centre.
Getting into Wheelchair Rugby League came along for a few different reasons. I'd tried athletics quite a bit and got into track running but still missed that team atmosphere I got from playing team sports and got from being a soldier. At the same time I'd moved back to Leeds and got back into following the rhinos and going along to Headingley. So the two kind of combined when I realised there was a Wheelchair Rugby League side affiliated with Rhinos! I went along to a few sessions then really got a taste for it."
2. What are your biggest achievements since you started playing WhRL?
"Since I started playing five years ago the sport has grown. There's now roughly 20 teams competing across 3 different leagues all around the country. So seeing the sport grow is a massive achievement for me. 4 years ago Leeds didn't compete seriously and didn't really have much direction but we got a new coach who turned us around and led us down a new path. We made the grand final and the challenge cup final two years on the bounce and that's a huge achievement for us. I never had any plans on trying my hand on the international stage but a few years ago I secured a spot in the England set up and we started a journey which ended last year in the World Cup in France. We played against the holders France in their own back garden and they narrowly came off as victors. That has to be one of my proudest moments, wheeling out in front of a few thousand french fans and singing the national anthem. I'll never forget that".
3. For us newbies, how could you sum up WhRL?
"WhRL is the closest you can get to playing rugby in a wheelchair. Its the same rules as any other form of rugby, especially rugby league. We have five players per team on the pitch at once. The ball can only be passed backwards, we have sticks for conversions once you've scored a try. You have tags on your shoulders so once you hit another player and stopped their chair you grab one of the tags and that simulates a tackle. At the same time the defence is getting back four metres while the ball is played. The game is played at a rapid pace and has gotten super competitive in the top league. One of the best parts is the game isn't restricted, anyone can join a team and play in some capacity. At Leeds we have male, female athletes, we have disabled players, non disabled players, 16 year olds all the way up to 40+ year olds".
4. What do you get up to when your not playing WhRL?
"When I'm not playing I'm behind the scenes trying to push the sport even more and help grow more clubs, especially with four years until 202! I like to stay in good shape so train a few times a week and take my dog out on long walks. Me and my missus like to travel so when we're in the off season we get away quite a bit, like last year we made it out to Australia to catch some of the world cup. That was an awesome experience. Also getting along to Headingley for as many home games as possible!"