There have been a few moments in Duncan Campbell’s life that seemed truly surreal. Take, for instance, the 2010 world wheelchair rugby championships where thousands of raucous fans shook the Richmond Oval’s foundations cheering for Team Canada. Or maybe the 2012 Paralympic wheelchair rugby gold medal match, which closed the Games in London, where Australia and Canada battled in front of over 9000 screaming spectators.

Historic moments for a fast-emerging sport, but, to Campbell, they were also so much more. You see, he is one of the few people currently on Earth who has created a totally new sport and lived to see it flourish on the international stage. Think about that for a moment. No wonder moments seem surreal to the thirty-year resident of Vancouver. He’s witnessing a dream come to life before his own eyes.

That dream began nearly forty years ago when Campbell was 19, just two years removed from a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic. He’d played hockey growing up, but had abandoned it before his accident. Being in a wheelchair brought him back to sport. One night in 1976, he and four friends—Jerry Terwin, Randy Dueck, Paul LeJeune, and Chris Sargent—showed up for their weekly weightlifting workout at a Winnipeg rehab centre, but the volunteer who assisted them didn’t show up. They went down the hall to the gymnasium instead and began fooling around with a volleyball. Within 45 minutes they had the basic rules to a fast-paced, physical game similar to rugby, but played in wheelchairs on a basketball court. They knew right away they had something and called it ‘murderball.’

Soon after demonstrating the game to others in Canada, it spread to the US and overseas to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Britain. In Campbell’s words, it “just blew up.” Now the world’s fastest growing wheelchair sport, over fifty nations play wheelchair rugby. Its’ popularity has exploded since becoming a full Paralympic medal sport in 2000 and boosted further by the Academy Award-nominated 2005 film Murderball.

No one has been more key to wheelchair rugby’s growth than Campbell, who has participated in every capacity from player to coach to administrator. After moving to BC in 1986 to work as a recreational therapist at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, in the years since he has influenced thousands with newly-acquired disabilities to participate in sport. He mentored many decorated Canadian Paralympians, including Trevor Hirschfield, Ian Chan, and fellow 2015 BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee Garett Hickling, as well as a high percentage of BC’s wheelchair rugby players at all levels. He also served as a member of the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation, national development director for the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association, and committee member for the 2010 world wheelchair rugby championships. “The game has given me a life,” he said. “It’s kept me going.”

Revered throughout the sport, two honours bestowed upon ‘The Quadfather’ stand out. On the 25th anniversary of wheelchair rugby’s founding in 2001, Canadian players changed the name of the national championship trophy to the Campbell Cup in his honour. Perhaps the only thing that could top that came in 2013, when Campbell received the prestigious Paralympic Order from Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.