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Wheelchair Football’s Camaraderie Comes With Metal-on-Metal Contact

Dawson Broad had been the starting quarterback for his suburban Buffalo high school, but he hadn’t played any sports since 2021, when, on his 23rd birthday, he had dived into an aboveground swimming pool and damaged his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

Then, last October, one of Broad’s physical therapists urged him to attend a local wheelchair football game. Broad was skeptical. He had spent long months of grueling rehabilitation regaining use of his left arm so that he could push a wheelchair. He wondered, What would one-hand touch football on wheels look like anyway?

“I was coming into it like, ‘Meh, this might be whatever,’” said Broad, 25, a public accountant.

He got an answer inside a hockey rink near the Buffalo River, its ice removed to reveal a gleaming concrete playing surface. In an arena crowded with rowdy spectators, Broad watched the Buffalo Bills Wheelchair Football Team bombard its way to a 13-6 win over visiting Cleveland. He remembers being spellbound: A referee’s whistle shrieked, tires squealed, and 14 chairs belonging to players from both teams sped as fast as the players’ hands could propel them.

He was especially enthralled by the contact — the clash of metal echoing through the arena as players collided, sending two chairs and the ball airborne from the impact.

“I looked at my dad and said, ‘This is nuts!’” Broad said. “‘This might be more physical than actual football.’ Right from there, I was hooked.”

Broad joined up one week later, becoming a member of one of the 13 teams in the USA Wheelchair Football League. The league has been a way for players like Broad to reconnect — with other wheelchair-dependent athletes and with a dormant part of themselves.

Most of the Bills’ practices take place in a gently sloped

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