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Wounded veterans find solace in wheelchair rugby: "It becomes the brotherhood"

Veterans find an outlet in wheelchair rugby
Veterans find an outlet in wheelchair rugby 03:52

In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, CBS News national correspondent Chip Reid introduces us to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Louisville, Kentucky, where sports like wheelchair rugby are helping wounded warriors heal.

After veteran Noah Currier was injured in an overseas deployment, he spent seven years struggling with suicidal thoughts – and he said he's not the only one. "Most of us go through a pretty dark period after our injuries," he said.  

But the Marine eventually found solace in an unexpected sport: wheelchair rugby. "It's the intimidation. It's the fear factor. It's the adrenaline," he said. "Then, it becomes the brotherhood."

Currier started the wheelchair rugby team "Oscar Mike," military speak for "on the move," to help other wounded veterans. "You get in a rugby chair, and you start smashing into people," he said. "You're having a blast doin' it. It just opens your eyes."

Oscar Mike competes at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, put on each year by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA. His team takes the court for games of what some call "murderball" in custom-built chairs that can cost up to $7,500.

Veterans play wheelchair rugby at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games CBS News

"If I get if I get knocked over, it just makes me want to play even more," said Mike Luckett, one of Currier's teammates. Luckett and Currier play alongside Ryan Major, who spent six weeks in a coma after losing both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq. 

"I'm always waiting for Ryan — because he's basically just a torso — to come flying out of his chair," Currier said.

Major said he has been knocked out of his chair before – but that he's knocked other people out of their chairs, too. He said he prefers the latter: "The knocking people out is pretty awesome," he said.

Major added that the thrill helped him gain the confidence to try other adventures. "After rugby, I've done skydiving, kayaking […] scuba diving, snorkeling," he said.

Mike Luckett, Ryan Major, and Noah Currier talk Oscar Mike and wheelchair rugby CBS News

That confidence is key, said VA doctor Kenneth Lee, who also serves as the tournament's medical director.

"When they go home, they feel better," Lee said. "They do better. They go out and get a job now."

Lee understands this first-hand. Wheelchair lacrosse helped him survive post-traumatic stress disorder after shrapnel from a suicide bomber in Iraq tore through his head and legs.

"As a physician, when I see these guys getting really aggressive, hitting hard, I should be really worried about it, right?" Lee said. "I'm actually the opposite. I'm like, 'Oh, he should've hit him harder.'"

The veterans also said that spending time with the next generation is one of the most valuable parts of the sport.  

"Mentoring is the biggest thing," Luckett said.

"Service members like to serve," Currier added. "Most of us didn't get to choose when we left our service, and we get to continue it."

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