MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Chuck Aoki has used a wheelchair for most of his life due to a genetic condition.

“I don’t feel anything below my elbows and below my knees, and I’ve had that since birth. So that causes me to break my leg without knowing it,” Aoki said.

Aoki found a quad rugby team through the Courage Center, and has been playing ever since.

“It’s the toughest sport out there. It’s 100% full contact wheelchair sport,” he said. “It’s the only one where contact’s encouraged, where if you run into somebody, hit them as hard as you can, they fall over – it’s a penalty on them. So it’s like football in wheelchairs, basically, so it’s a lot of fun.”

His inspiration came first through the famous documentary “Murderball” – a look at rugby for a team of wheelchair-bound athletes that changed everything.

“It’s an incredible film. It really changed peoples’ perceptions of people in wheelchairs. And it was cool to see for me – a kid in a wheelchair growing up – seeing people like me all of a sudden out there, you know,” he said. “They’re out there doing these cool things, traveling the world, living life. It’s like, you know, I want to be that.”

He has taken his love for the sport to a level he did not know existed, earning a spot on the Paralympic team in London.

“When I made my first Paralympic team this past summer, they called us in to our training center, they call us in to a room…and officially call your name out, it’s just an overwhelming experience,” he said. “I cried the first time tears of joy, you know. It’s a pretty cool experience.”

it led to another trip he couldn’t have imagined – one to the White House to meet President Obama.

“That was cool. I mean, that’s one of those things I say no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, no matter what you believe, it’s like, you get a chance to meet the president, you don’t pass it up,” Aoki said. “And he was just one of the coolest, in to sports. Just, you know, ‘This is so cool, I wish I could have been there with you guys.’ It was pretty amazing.”

And now he ponders his next stop, the next Paralympics in Rio three years from now. And after a bronze medal in London, the competitive juices are flowing towards gold.

“We have a good team. You know, we have the number one-ranked team in the world right now – USA Wheelchair Rugby. We just got back from Denmark a few weeks ago and we took back the number one seed. We beat the defending gold medalists, Australia,” he said. “So, you know, that was a good start for us. But they’re gonna come back hungrier [at] next year’s world championships, then the Paralympics will be a whole other story. We’re happy where we’ve come, but we have a ways to go.”

Mike Max