A.J. Nanayakkara lost his "able-bodied" life with one bad fall when he was a martial arts instructor 16 years ago. The spinal cord injury left him with quadriplegia, in a wheelchair and in a deep depression for the next eight years.
"A lot of people, after their injuries, just sit at home," he said.
Then someone over at Magee Rehab finally convinced him to get into Quad Rugby – a wheelchair sport that's so physically aggressive it's been nicknamed "Murderball."
“It gave me my life back," A.J. says. “It gave me a purpose. What makes life special is doing the things you don’t have to do.”
Playing wheelchair rugby at an elite level not only gave A.J. a life of purpose and adventure, "I've seen four continents and three oceans," he says -- it eventually led him to love.
“Doing this got me into volunteering and peer mentoring, which got me back into college and that’s where I met my wife."
A.J. coaches and plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, Magee Rehab's quad rugby or wheelchair rugby team. More than 20 players hit the court each fall for tournament play and year-round they do a lot of outreach – trying to make sure other people who've had spinal cord injuries know what a lifesaver Murderball can be.
"I like being around other people that understand what you're like," says Mason Symons.
On a rainy morning a little more than a year ago, Mason, 22, wiped out on his motorcycle while heading to work. He makes the 1-1/2 hour drive every week to get to practice.
"I also like hitting people," he says, laughing.
Tournament play starts in October. And the team hosts the big Beat of the East Tournament every year. This year's invitiational is November 12 - 13 at River Winds Community Center in West Deptford, N.J.