UVM’s “Murderball” medicine man

Weeks after Beijing dazzled the world with the Olympic spectacle that was the 2008 games, China’s capital played host to perhaps the ultimate amateur-athlete competition – the Paralympics. This year’s Paralympics saw the U.S. wheelchair rugby team’s return to gold-medal form as they defeated Australia 53-44.For UVM assistant athletic trainer Jim Murdock, the event was the culmination of a four-year relationship with the team that began before the Athens Paralympics in 2004.Murdock, a 12-year athletic trainer at UVM, said he began volunteering in athletic medicine for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) with the U.S. boxing team. “I was working with USA boxing,” Murdock said. “Just before Athens, I had finished up with the Junior Olympics, and [the USOC] told me I was probably going to Athens with the boxing team and I’m thinking, ‘awesome’.”In May of 2004, Murdock received a letter congratulating him on being picked to travel to Athens with the U.S. team. Much to his surprise, however, Murdock was told he would be the wheelchair rugby athletic trainer for the Paralympics, a sport he said he was completely unfamiliar with.”I’m thinking, this has got to be a joke,” Murdock said. “I called [the USOC] back and they’re like, ‘no, really, it’s part of the Paralympics.”Murdock said the USOC had chosen him for his experience in ‘combat sports’ – sports of a physical nature – because wheel?chair rugby is, after all, a very physical sport. Murdock said he joined the team shortly thereafter and immediately enjoyed his time with the team. “I really got drawn into these guys and their dedication, their compassion,” Murdock said. “[Wheelchair rugby] is their life.”While learning new forms of athletic medicine on the job, such as body-cooling techniques – people suffering from paralysis don’t sweat, which is a huge problem for athletes who need to control their body heat – Murdock continued to gain admiration for the Paralympians, who he called the “true amateur athletes.””[Paralympians] are much more appreciative and understand the commitment that the staff puts in,” Murdock said.From there, the team went on to Athens where, for the first time in wheelchair rugby history, the U.S. failed to win the gold.”Athens was bittersweet, but a good experience,” Murdock said.According to Murdock, two months after Athens – when it became evident that then assistant coach James Gumbert would be taking over as head coach of the team – Gumbert asked Murdock if he would like to stay involved with the team during their training towards Beijing. Murdock said he did not hesitate in jumping once more at the opportunity. Over the next four years, Murdock said he traveled with the team to various tournaments around the world, including Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand and, of course, Beijing.Over this time, wheelchair rugby gained notoriety through the award-winning documentary “Murderball,” in which Murdock actually appears while training the team. “The game has become more refined and it’s really spread through a lot of the country,” Murdock said. “‘Murderball’ had a huge impact, but there were a lot of other factors.””Funding for Paralympics has greatly improved. USOC and the U.S. Paralympics committee merged after the Sydney games, and a tremendous amount of funding became available,” Murdock said. “It was a true godsend for a lot of Paralympics athletes.”Finally, after four years of waiting for their chance at redemption, Murdock and Team USA reached Beijing. Murdock said that, like the Olympics weeks before it, the Paralympics “went off without a hitch.” “The village was beautiful,” Murdock said. “[China] wasn’t this closed, shutdown society that we thought it might be.”Murdock said that though communications were monitored and there were cameras placed just about everywhere, it was not too invasive.”[The Paralympics] were really well done,” Murdock said. “I can’t express how beautiful things were.”On Sept. 16, the U.S. fought off the Australians in the gold medal game to reclaim the gold medal they felt they gave away in 2004. Murdock expressed how proud he was as his team was awarded with their medals.”One part that is really rewarding to me is the patriotic component. When we won gold and they raised the flag, it was really emotional,” Murdock said.While Murdock expressed some interest in going to the London games in 2012, he said that many athletic trainers don’t get the chance to go to two games, and he would be more than willing to give someone else the opportunity to enjoy his experience.Whatever happens between now and the London games, Murdock said he is “very grateful to his UVM colleagues” for giving him the opportunity to take time away from his day-job and is greatly appreciative of his experience with the Paralympics.”I have been tremendously blessed,” Murdock said.