The past year’s media exposure has brought both positive and negative images of people with disabilities. The film “Murderball” evoked celebration from film festivals, the general public, and members of the disability movement.
This documentary captured the essence of sport and competition mixed with exposure to the realities of life with a disability, free from patronization and pity-inducing sentimentality.
The film’s touches on family dynamics, loyalty, friendship, and healing culminate to leave viewers, regardless of their ability status, with a feeling of empowerment and appreciation for the competitive spirit of quad rugby athletes. For those that didn’t catch the movie in theaters, “Murderball” will be released on DVD November 29, 2005.
Most of the individuals featured in the documentary were members of Team USA on the road to Athens for the 2004 Paralympic Games. However, one person in the film played an especially unique role as the now self-proclaimed “Quad Father”, Chris Igoe.
A longtime friend of Mark Zupan, the main individual featured in “Murderball”, Chris got behind the wheel drunk on the night of the crash that led to Mark’s spinal cord injury. The play on words of “Quad Father” the two have now adopted is a symbol of their acceptance and healing after this life-changing event.
While Chris shares some poignant moments in the film, I was left with several unanswered questions and the suspicion that an additional interesting story was left untold related to his experience.
Chris Igoe has been very busy since the film’s release with his website(www.quadfather.net), his career as a stock broker, and training for a marathon.
Still, he remains extremely active in the disabled community, especially supporting athletes and newly injured individuals. I contacted Chris and he was exceedingly open to sharing what I anticipated would be more insight into his story.
Born in New Jersey, Chris moved to Florida fairly early in his life. He cites family support as always being present and important.
Today, his father and sister, Danielle, assist greatly in the design and upkeep of his website. They also supported his athletic pursuits as Igoe played several sports throughout high school and college.
It would be during football spring training season that his friendship with Mark Zupan would be born. Remembering Mark’s work ethic and intensity as the spark that ignited their relationship, Chris recalls living with a sense of invincibility, working hard and partying even harder.
The film dramatically captures the life-changing impact the accident had on so many. Reflecting on their lifestyle at the time Chris states, “In retrospect, there was a huge cost.”
Igoe’s initial reaction to the news that Mark was likely paralyzed was a sense of sincere shock and a search for justice and retaliation. Having not been aware that Mark was in his truck bed during the crash, Igoe’s first thoughts centered on the possibility that he was injured by a member of a fraternity the two had a minor dispute with the night before.
Igoe cannot find the words to describe the exact feeling when he found out that he was responsible for the accident. Still, after only a few hours, Chris visited the hospital to offer support to Mark and his family.
Considering the emotional intensity and sign of character required by Igoe to face his actions day after day following the accident, it’s easy to understand why the producers of “Murderball” wanted to include him in this documentary.
It’s perhaps even easier to understand why Igoe might at first have wary about this proposition. Afraid that he would be painted as a “malicious drunk that crippled his friend,” Igoe preferred to define himself so he eventually built trust with the writers and signed on to the project.
Still it hasn’t been easy exposing the worst thing that has ever happened to him, his “deepest darkest secret…is now available for public consumption.”
Igoe wondered how people would react to him. He experienced an unearthing of painful emotions as he watched the story of Mark’s accident and rise to success in his sport unfold on the big screen with the rest of the country again and again.
But the film’s release also offered Igoe the chance to heal again, stronger than before. While the documentary takes advantage of some dramatic license in the portrayal of a long break in the friendship between Mark and Chris, their bond, too, has strengthened in the past year.
From the perspective of a disability advocate, I immediately recognized the unique opportunity Chris Igoe has had to learn about what life is really like for our friends, coworkers, family members, and colleagues with disabilities.
He has gone from someone who didn’t spend “any time thinking about disability prior to the accident” to one of many skilled allies in the able-bodied world who can recognize the ignorance of pity.
Chris sees exposure as the key to changing attitudes. Explaining that the biases are often so deeply ingrained, the only way to change them is to give people the chance to see real people living their lives with disabilities.
He has also learned from the successes of his friends, Mark and others on Team USA. Recognizing the critical need for a support system and the empowering characteristics of disabled sports in the lives of newly injured people with disabilities, Chris not only speaks about what he has learned from his experiences but he’s also involved in several projects to make these needs a reality to people across the world.
With a growing website offering information and support, a busy speaking schedule, and his openness to share what he has learned and is learning every day, Chris Igoe’s impact in the realm of disability awareness has just begun.
He reminds us of what many here already know and hopefully many in the world are beginning to understand, “Disability is NOT a death sentence. You define who you are, and you can do anything.”