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Foundations help man who suffered spinal injury stay active with wheelchair rugby

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Posted at 10:16 PM, Jun 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-13 00:18:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Gates Hunsaker has always been an active guy, but when he was 19 years old and on the day before he was to leave on an LDS Church service mission, he broke his neck snowboarding.

Despite his struggles since then, Hunsaker has made the most of his disability in one of the world's most physical sports.

"I passed out, was kind of in shock," Hunsaker said about his snowboarding accident. "I woke up not really knowing where I was; it was actually kind of surreal, like I was waking up out of a dream."

Hunsaker severed his spinal cord at the C5 level, confining him to a wheelchair. He has control of his shoulders, biceps, neck and above

"I had to relearn how to do everything: relearn how to eat, relearn how to move around, relearn how to drive," he said. "Those have been a couple of milestones, but it's been a good trip."

But, there was no way he was going to let that stop him. Hunsaker has been able to continue to be active, using an adaptive bike to help him complete the 2015 Salt Lake Marathon.

He heard about wheelchair rugby, but was skeptical.

"When I first heard about it I was like 'OK nurse, how fast can these quadriplegics get going? It sounds kind of lame,'" Hunsaker joked. "When I first saw one of these rugby chairs, it does not look like a wheelchair. It was like, 'When can I get in this thing?' and when I did get in it, I didn't want to get back in my wheelchair."

The specialized gear needed to play wheelchair rugby was out of Hunsaker's price range, as it costs more than $7,000. He reached out to a group called the "High Five" foundation. They collaborated with the "Challenged Athletes" foundation to get Hunsaker a wheelchair fit for rugby.

"They were amazing; they were eager to help out in any possible way they could," he said about the two foundations. "They were just asking me if there was anything they could possibly do more than what they were going to do, and I've never met these people before so that was really cool."

Now, Hunsaker is in a local wheelchair rugby league, proving that no matter the feat, it's always worth the effort.

"So many opportunities are taken away from you, but so many more are given to you."