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Bulbul is Beijing bound

PUBLISHED: 14:43 19 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:22 05 October 2010

Bulbul Hussain has been named in the Great Britain wheelchair rugby squad for the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

By JONATHAN CLEGG

BULBUL Hussain was on holiday with his parents in Bangladesh when he was involved in a car accident that left him confined to a wheelchair.

Hussain returned home partially paralysed following a spinal injury to the C5 and C6 verterbrae.

The visit to the country of his birth had thrown his world into chaos.

Now, 12 years later, Hussain has been named in the Great Britain wheelchair rugby team for the Beijing Paralympics.

The trip to China in September will represent a personal triumph for Hussain even before the medals are handed out.

"When I came out of hospital, it was like being in a completely different world," says Hussain.

"I wasn't born like this and then all of a sudden I'm in a chair for the rest of my life.

"Things you used to do you can't do anymore because your lifestyle has changed completely. Even the people you used to hang out with treat you slightly differently and look at you in a different way. I honestly didn't know what to do."

Hussain, who moved to London from Bangladesh in 1985 and lives in Bethnal Green, was just 21 when the accident happened.

In those first agonising weeks after leaving hospital, as he tried to adapt to his new condition, Hussain searched around for an activity to occupy his mind.

He briefly took up painting, but after several weeks of working on watercolours, he still felt unfulfilled.

Then he discovered wheelchair rugby.

"I started painting to pass the time when I first got back home but after about a month I'd had enough," he recalls. "I needed to do something more energetic. I had never played sport seriously but I've always been a competitor and liked to push myself.

"I had heard about wheelchair rugby when I was in the hospital and I forced myself to get out and go to training one day.

"I can still remember the first time I got into one of these chairs and started hitting some of the other players because it was such a great feeling."

Wheelchair rugby, better known as murderball after the 2005 Hollywood documentary about the game, is a full-contact sport that combines elements of basketball, handball and ice hockey - although it bears closest resemblance to a demolition derby.

Played on a basketball court with teams of four, the aim is to pass and dribble the ball from one end of the gym to the other while withstanding a series of thunderous collisions, which are often violent enough to knock the players out of their reinforced chairs.

For Hussain, it was an outlet for his burning desire to compete. From the first training session, he was hooked.

"Even on that first day, the other guys there told me that I could be really good at this," he says.

"I remember one of the more experienced players telling me that it was a good sign if I got a blister on my hands - he said that was a way of finding out whether or not you had what it takes to play this sport.

"When I got home that night, I kept looking at my hands and there was no sign of any blistering, but the next morning I had a huge blister and I was really relieved because I had enjoyed playing so much.

"I used to pay £20 to get a cab to take me to training and back again, which made it very expensive, but I didn't want to miss a single session."

Hussain's dedication to the sport has made him one of the country's top players and last month he was recognised as one of the best in the world at a leading tournament in Australia.

Players are given point values according to the amount of body use they have, with values ranging from 0.5 for those with the lowest mobility to 3.5 for those with most movement.

The total classification of the four players on the floor at any one time cannot exceed eight points, meaning that there is a premium placed on the likes of Hussain, who was named the best one-pointer at the International Super Series in Melbourne.

He is responsible for doing the dirty work - blocking opponents and taking hits so that the team's star players can weave from one end of the court to the other.

"I really enjoy the physical aspect of the game," he explains. "It's a good outlet for your aggression and it's exciting for the spectators too.

"There's no physical contact between players but we make contact with our chairs - and we hit each other really hard.

"To get an award for doing that at a world class competition in Australia, I was over the moon, but to get a medal at the Paralympics would be something else."

Despite his recent success, Hussain admits he faced an anxious wait to discover whether he had been selected in the squad for Beijing.

He was a member of the Great Britain side that finished fourth at the world championships two years ago and the experience persuaded him to put in the extra work to ensure a place in the team for China.

"The Paralympics is the biggest achievement in this sport and I realised I could do it," he says.

"I've really worked hard for the last few years and I've started doing extra sessions outside of training to improve my fitness because I knew I had to push someone out of the way if I wanted to make the team.

"It was a bit of a nervous wait to find out yes or no. My whole family were gathered round but luckily I got the call from the head coach, which was really good news.

"It's really a big honour and I'm very proud. It's a dream come true.


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