Bulbul Hussain hoping it’s third time lucky at Rio Paralympics
- Credit: Archant
Wheelchair rugby ace chasing medal for GB
Bulbul Hussain’s first impression of wheelchair rugby was not a good one, but he is poised to represent Great Britain at his third Paralympic Games in Rio.
The 44-year-old east Londoner was introduced to the sport in 1995, having suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident in his native Bangladesh a year earlier.
And he admits he had very little interest in getting involved at that time, saying: “I was a patient at Stoke Mandeville hospital. I had been taken straight there from the airport after my accident.
“When I finished my rehab I was looking at trying different things and one of the nurses said ‘why not give wheelchair rugby a try?’
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“I watched it and thought ‘no way!’ as there was lots of contact and they were hitting hard. But after I went home, I was really bored. I was doing some painting to pass the time and my occupational therapist said why not try it, so I eventually forced myself to try it.”
Before his accident, Hussain would go to the gym to keep fit, play football with his friends and ‘do some thai boxing and kickboxing’.
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He was hoping to become a car mechanic, but eventually found a new love after that introductory wheelchair rugby session in Battersea, although Hussain was soon brought back down to earth by one of the others.
“My friend asked me after if I had any blisters on my hands. I didn’t and he said I didn’t work hard enough,” he added.
“I thought maybe he was joking, but then I saw the biggest blisters I’d ever seen!”
Hussain, who was left with no movement in his lower body and no function in his hands after the accident, also has restriction to his arm movement and in terms of classification is regarded as a 1.0 player, almost the lowest in terms of functional ability.
Teams can field four players at one time, but must not exceed a total of eight points, although the maximum goes up by 0.5 for every female player on the court to ensure parity in athletic ability.
Hussain began playing in 1997 and won gold in his first major tournament at the National Championships. Then, in 2006, he was in the GB team which
finished fourth in the World Championships in New Zealand.
He added: “It was a huge thing, mentally and physically. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but now I’m out and about, keeping fit and healthy and playing sport.
It’s a dream to be in the GB squad for the third time at a Paralympics, travelling the world.”
GB repeated their fourth-place finish at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing and were fifth at the 2010 World Championships in Vancouver, Canada.
But they made it on to the podium at the 2011 European Championships in Switzerland, winning silver, and Hussain was included in the squad for the 2012 Paralympics in London, right on his Whitechapel doorstep.
They finished fourth and Hussain added: “After London 2012 I was going to retire, but then I said ‘I’ll have one more year’. Then after the Euros I said one more year and after the Worlds I said I wanted to go to Rio! The challenges keep coming and it’s good to give it another shot and hopefully win a medal.”
The GB squad also includes Hussain’s London Wheelchair Rugby Club team-mates Jonathan Coggan (0.5), captain Chris Ryan (2.0), Mandip Sehmi (2.5) and Jim Roberts (3.0), among others.
And they have been working hard to ensure they are among the medal contenders in Brazil, with Hussain adding: “We went to Canada and Japan and played the best teams in the world and we were close, only losing by one or two points. Fresh, new players are coming in now and bringing different ideas. We’ve got a good chance.
“Monday and Wednesday we train at the London club for three hours, mainly on rugby stuff. Tuesday and Thursday we do strength and conditioning at Lee Valley and work with weights for a couple of hours, then we’re in the rugby chair. It’s a real battle and you end up feeling
“Friday we do video analysis, watch games and see where we can get better. The weekend is for the family. I’ve got two boys, nine and 15.
The youngest is crazy about football, the eldest has tried taekwondo and cricket. We’ve got a busy schedule!”
Hussain admits there is less pressure on team members now, with more financial backing given to paralympic sport.
But he says it will be hard to be away from his family again and he would dearly love to be able to bring home a special souvenir.
He added: “I used to have to pay out of my own pocket, but it has got bigger and we get more funding from UK Sport.
“It’s great being with the other GB teams, all wearing the same kit. Hopefully we can go and do some damage. I’ll miss my family, but I’m hoping it will pay off with a medal around my neck.”
Australia and the United States will pose big threats, but GB captain Ryan backs his side to make their mark, adding: “I can’t put into words how proud I am to lead this incredible team. We have a great squad ethos.
“We have had an incredibly tough few years of training and preparing for competitions, but there is none bigger than the Paralympics. I know all our hard work will pay off when we compete.”
Fixtures, GB v Australia (September 14); GB v Canada (Sept 15); GB v Brazil (Sept 16); play-offs (Sept 17); medal matches (Sept 18).