Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Misener, Laura


Wheelchair rugby exploded in popularity after the documentary Murderball was released in 2005. The sport was developed in Canada in the 1970s and named an official Paralympic sport in 2000 (Litchke et al., 2012). Wheelchair rugby is one of the few Paralympic or Olympic sports that includes mixed-sex participation. Where historically women with disabilities have had limited access to elite sporting competition (DePauw, 1997), wheelchair rugby provides the opportunity for women to represent themselves as competitive and physical beings, capable of the physicality and aggressive nature of the sport alongside men (Pavlidis & Fullagar, 2013). Yet there is a paucity of research in considering women’s experiences’ in these potentially highly gendered sport settings. This study uses a thematic analysis approach to explore female athletes’ lived experiences of participation in wheelchair rugby. Five provincial athletes were interviewed and shared their complex experiences competing in wheelchair rugby.

Summary for Lay Audience

While there are a wide range of studies examining women’s involvement in sport, research has predominantly focused on men’s experiences, even when the research is on mixed-sex sports. Wheelchair rugby is one of few mixed-sex sports and men and women compete on the same teams from the recreational level up to the international stage. Given the popularity of the 2005 documentary Murderball, wheelchair rugby has become more commonly known and as a result, many studies were developed on this sport after the documentary was released. However, the majority of these studies examine the masculinity in the sport, focusing primarily on men. The current research attempts to fill this gap created by examining the experience of Canadian female wheelchair rugby players. Themes from the interviews that are discussed include aggressive communication; forms of identity; feelings of belonging; and independence. This research is a glimpse into the complex lived experiences of these players and their experiences playing high-level wheelchair rugby with their mostly male teammates. This research contributes to the novel area of understanding lived experiences of women who compete in mixed-sex sporting competitions.