Editor’s Note: When Bob Lujano from Birmingham, Alabama, had both his arms and legs amputated because of a rare blood disease, he felt that his love of sports and his opportunity to have an active life was over. Depending on his faith and his never-say-die attitude, today Lujano is experiencing the opportunity of a lifetime.
In his book, “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem,” Lujano demonstrates his spirit that has helped so many people deal with and overcome their disabilities. Lujano co-starred in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Murderball” and has been a guest on “Larry King Live.” He was named one of the 20 Most Beautiful People in Birmingham by “Birmingham Magazine” in 2013.
As the President of the United States Quad Rugby Association, I leave for Russia in May to teach eight Russian paraplegic teams how to play the game of quad rugby better. Rugby, often called murderball, was invented by the Canadians in the late 1970s. Their form of rugby was developed specifically for people with disabilities.
In 1981, Brad Mickelson brought quad rugby to the United States, and formed an official league – the United States Quad Rugby Association. Our association has been operating now for about 25 years. Currently, we have about 40 teams nationwide and about 550 athletes – both men and women.
For 21 years, I’ve played quad rugby on the Lakeshore Foundation’s Demolition Quad Rugby Team. The Lakeshore Demolition Team has won the United States Quad Rugby Association Championship five times and is the only team that has won that championship that many times.
What’s Quad Rugby?
Quad rugby is a four on four sport played on a basketball court that’s very fast and athletic. The participants are allowed to make chair-to-chair contact (crash in to each other). If a competitor is pushing his wheelchair hard, and a collision occurs, one of the athletes may get flipped out of his chair. If a competitor runs into an opposing team’s athlete, and the opposing team’s player flips out of his chair, that’s a foul. If you hit the floor, staff people will come onto the floor and help get you back into your chair.
Quad rugby is a rough and tumble sport that allows quadriplegics to play a game that’s as close to American football as we’ll ever get.
But for me, quad rugby is more than crashing into people and having people crash into me. I love the camaraderie of the team, and I love being able to compete with people who have similar disabilities.
Why Winning Is Everything and Winning Isn’t Everything
The two rugby games I remember the most are the one that taught me that winning was everything, and the second game that taught me that winning wasn’t everything. As athletes, we’re trained to compete to win. I’ve played on five National Championship rugby teams.
Winning that first National Championship was a great moment in my life and in the lives of the other Lakeshore Demolition Quad Rugby Team members. Lakeshore had been to the championship the year before I joined, and they lost. I joined the team after that loss.
I’d never had the opportunity to play for a championship before 1998, when I came on the Lakeshore team. The members were really hungry to win and determined to get back to the National Championship round and win.
From day one, our goal was to win the National Championship. So, 2 days per week for 3 hours, we practiced as hard as I’d ever practiced for anything. We had a lot of talent on our team, and I didn’t want to be the weak link on that team. We were fortunate enough to have a coach who pushed us hard to get in the best physical condition we possibly could be.
Although a rugby game would last only about 32 minutes of actual playing time, we spent about 1-1/2 hours playing those 32 minutes. In 1998, the matches we played were a war of attrition. Because our coach had trained us to be so strong and to endure, we easily handled most of the games we played.
The Demolition Team qualified for the National Championship, playing the Sharp Edge Team from San Diego, California. This team had won the National Championship for three consecutive years and was the team that had beat Lakeshore Demolition the year before in the championship game. We played an outstanding game with them. Finally, we won by one point. I remember that was the hardest game I ever had played up until that time.
When Demolition won its first National Championship in quad rugby, we all felt as though a 100-pound gorilla had been removed from our backs.
The experience we got from winning that championship made the next five National Championships we won much easier, because we expected to win, and winning was everything to us.
I think the team I was the most proud of being on was our 2004 team. We had won the National Championship 5 straight years – from 1998 to 2003. But we had three players on our team who retired before the 2004 season began. These three players were not only Paralympic athletes – they were Hall of Fame players. We lost much of the power that had been on our team in past years.
At the beginning of the 2004 season, very few people gave us a chance to make the National Championships. When we were selected as one of eight teams to go to the playoffs, we were seated seventh. We were one place above the lowest team in the finals. Although we were the retuning five-time National Championship team in 2004, we had lost three top players, and no one expected us to do very well. But, we beat the number two and the number four teams.
The last game of the tournament pitted us against the number one team – the Texas Stampede. Although we played hard, we lost the National Championship by one or two goals. But I was so proud to be a member of that team, although we lost the National Championship, because no one ever expected us to reach the National Championship round.
“I’ve learned that often a team shows more character in losing than in winning.
In retrospect, our coaches being able to push us, our team being willing to play hard enough, and us all playing to the best of our abilities is hard to believe. However, I learned that winning isn’t everything. I don’t think there has ever been a rugby team that’s lost three Hall of Fame starters from a four man team that’s ever made it to the National Championship round like that team did. Even though we lost to the Texas team, I’ll always hold that team and the players on that team in the highest regard, because we were able to accomplish the near impossible.
What Bob’s Life Was Like Before Quad Rugby
Before I contracted a rare blood disease, I was a very active young man. I loved to play sports, and I loved to be outdoors and active. But when I contracted this disease, both my arms were amputated below my elbows, and both my legs were amputated above my knees.
The disease that took my arms and legs is called Meningococcemia, a form of meningitis. Most people’s immune system can ward off this disease. However, my genetic makeup didn’t allow my body to fight this disease. This disease prevented blood circulation to my extremities. So, at 9 years old, I had portions of my arms and legs amputated.
Before my operations, I lived in Kansas. I played baseball, went to church and was as active as I could be. Without the operation, I was told I would die. Well, I’m very happy I didn’t die.
I’d rather live my life with half a body than being dead with a whole body.
After my operations, I went to school and attended college at the University of Texas at Arlington. My undergraduate degree was in history/pre-law. Then, I got a master’s degree in recreation/sports management. All my life I had enjoyed sports. When I learned that I had an opportunity to get a master’s degree in that area, I hoped that maybe one day I could help run a sports program in parks or sports organizations.
What Bob Lujano’s Life Is Like Today
Currently, I’m employed at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, as an information specialist, and I’m also an ambassador for inclusion. I speak for inclusion not only in facilities for people with disabilities, but also sports for people with disabilities. Whenever there is any governmental initiative, whether it is local, state or federal, we make sure we’re at the table talking about inclusion to be certain there are opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I have a job that is better and bigger than I ever believed I could get.”
The set of circumstances that led me to Lakeshore Foundation is really amazing. I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was playing quad rugby. The team I played for in Atlanta often came to Lakeshore to compete. While playing quad rugby at Lakeshore, I saw that a job was opening there, and I applied for the job. Lakeshore hired me to fill that position as an information specialist.
About 4 years ago, an organization called the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) from Chicago, Illinois, came to Lakeshore’s headquarters, and the president of that organization asked me, “Would you like to be the first person hired to represent the National Center on Physical Activity, and Disability?”
In that role, I do quite a bit of blogging and answering questions like, “What’s the best form of exercise for me with my disability?” I also get asked this question, “Where do I find the medical equipment that I need?” I try to answer any call, email or question from my chat line or give the person inquiring the name of an organization or company that can answer their question. I try to write a lot of resource information for people with disabilities on a day to day basis. Even though I work for this organization, I’m still considered an employee of the Lakeshore Foundation.
About Bob Lujano’s Book: No Arms, No Legs, No Problem
In 2014, I completed a 7 year project to write a book titled, “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem.” Often, I’m asked, “What’s this book about?” The book is basically my autobiography. When I was about 19 years old, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.
Today, people would call it a bucket list, and writing a book was on it. About 7 years ago, my sister, who lives in Los Angeles, California, wrote and told me she had met a writer named Tara Schiro, who was willing to help me write my book. You can find my book on Amazon.
Through my journey in this life, I’ve learned that having faith in God and in my family are the two main reasons that I’ve been able to overcome many aspects of my disability. I also wrote the book with Tara, so that this generation and future generations will know through my life’s example what is possible and how to handle adversity. I’m very thankful that I’ve achieved one of my biggest goals that I dreamed about so long ago when I was 19.
Community Comments on Bob Lujano
David Anders, Ph.D. and Host of EWTN Open Line explains that, “Bob Lujano is a remarkable man. He lived through intense abuse, neglect and prejudice long before he contracted the infection that would take his arms and legs. Most people couldn’t suffer through half his struggles without succumbing to despair. But Bob’s faith, hope, and love are the secret to a victorious and beautiful life. His book brought me to tears. I’m privileged to call him a friend.”
Jeff Underwood, president of the Lakeshore Foundation, says, “Bob teaches us all a critical life lesson – that our true self and the source of human goodness lies in our mind, character and spirit. His story also raises the importance of family in those good events and the traumatic events that shape our lives. Bob’s refusal to let his physical state define him as a person is something we can and should all learn from him.”
Visit Lujano’s website to learn more.
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites.
He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.