A PURBECK sportsperson has traded one theatre for another in the pursuit of Paralympic glory.
George Rogers is a steward at The Lighthouse theatre in Poole, helping people to their seats for performances.
But when not working, his attentions turn to an altogether more physical theatre – that of the wheelchair rugby pitch.
Recognised as one of the most physical para-sports, wheelchair rugby is fast, furious and full-on.
George, 24, is a member of GB Wheelchair Rugby’s talent pathway squad, just one step below the elite squad that won Olympic Gold in Tokyo.
And his sporting ambitions are a far cry from the polite audiences at The Lighthouse.
“It’s actually nowhere near as dangerous as it might look,” he said.
The sport was invented in the 1970s in Canada and was originally known, somewhat shockingly, as Murderball.
“You have offensive players whose job is to carry the ball and defensive players whose job is to create the space by blocking opposing players,” George said. “Their chairs are different to facilitate those roles. You have to think about how you score and when you score, how to evade your opponents, when to use time outs, and keep constantly adapting.
“It’s incredibly fast moving and there’s a lot to think about.”
George has been a para-sports enthusiast from a young age, having completed the London Mini Marathon in a wheelchair at the age of eight as well as swimming competitively as a teenager.
Wheelchair rugby is played on a regulation basketball court using a volleyball, with men and women competing on the same teams. Contact between chairs is an integral part of the game, but physical contact between players is not allowed.
George started playing wheelchair rugby for Solent Sharks while studying Film Production at Solent University.
Having been selected for GB Wheelchair Rugby’s talent pathway, he now attends monthly training camps at Lilleshall as he works towards joining the elite squad camps where he’ll play alongside the paralympic team.
“Seeing GB win gold in Tokyo was incredibly inspiring, but obviously nothing’s guaranteed so I keep working to be the best I can be, then we’ll see what happens,” he added.
“In the immediate future, my focus is on a trip to Alabama with GB Talent in November to play the US Development Team.
“We’ll be playing them several times over the course of a week. The USA are a superpower in the sport and it’s incredibly exciting to be heading out there to play internationally.”
To be eligible to play wheelchair rugby athletes must have impairments to their legs and arms. Many have spinal injuries, with full or partial paralysis, others with amputations, polio, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy (like George) may also be eligible to play.
“Some of the guys I play with have had to make tremendous adjustments in their lives, which is a very different experience to mine,” he said.
The elite squad is made up of professional athletes and although funding is available for expenses including travel, accommodation, kit and a bespoke chair, George relies on his family, as well as his job at Lighthouse.
“I’ve worked at Lighthouse since I was 17 – it was my first job and I love it,” he said.
One thing is for sure. George has it all to play for.