Coaching, mentoring and education all blend together for Brian Weber, a 35-year-old football and wheelchair rugby coach from Rochester, New York. Whether teaching 250-pound high schoolers proper foot work, instructing 40-year-old quads in proper chair positioning or helping the newly injured learn how to adapt to their changed bodies, Weber knows that success in life and in sport is all about the details.
Sports have always been a big part of Brian Weber’s life. “I started playing football when I was in fifth grade,” he says. “I played football for 10 years, but I loved all sports, anything physically active.” So much so that he went to college to be a physical education teacher and a coach. He was working as an offensive and defensive line coach at his alma mater, Gates Chili high school, and substitute teaching in the same district, when he jumped into a wave at the beach and injured his spinal cord at C3-4.
Weber’s career path didn’t change with the accident. After rehab, he stopped subbing but stayed on as a football coach, though he had to modify how he went about it. “It took me a little while to adjust, it was hard,” he says. “To get someone to understand how to really hit or block someone, there would be times that I really wanted to just jump out of my chair and show them, but I couldn’t do it. I had to take a breath, calm down, and figure out how to break down a skill and explain it.” In some ways, Weber thinks the shift has made him a better coach. Because he has to explain every part of a skill rather than demonstrate it, it’s given him a deeper understanding of everything that goes into seemingly simple movements.
Less than two years after his accident, Weber was approached by a couple of guys who were starting a local wheelchair rugby team and needed a coach. His only exposure to the sport had been in an adaptive sports class at college, but he was intrigued. “I went to practice, and they all seemed like pretty good guys. I said, ‘Sure, I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I’ll come out and help as much as I can.’” That was six years ago, and he’s been coaching the Rochester Wreckers ever since. Though the bodies of the football and quad rugby players may be worlds apart, Weber finds a lot of similarities in how he coaches the two sports. For Weber, success in both is founded on a mastery of the fundamentals. Whether it’s chair positioning, foot work or body mechanics, “the littlest thing can help you out and make you more successful.”
That’s true in everyday life as well. When people get out of rehab, they rarely have time to develop the various skills they need to live with reduced function — and that’s where mentoring and peer support can be so valuable. So when Scott Friel, a nurse manager on the rehab floor of a local hospital, started setting up a peer support group, Weber was all over it. “It’s great to give people with new injuries a sense of how to deal with all the different aspects of living life outside of a hospital,” he says.
Better Living Through Tech
Going from an aspiring physical education teacher to a quad who uses a sip-and-puff power chair wasn’t easy, but Weber has found technological solutions that allow him to stay physically active and also increase his daily independence.
“I was always into being active and working out, so after my accident I needed something like that. I now have an FES exercise bike. I stick electrodes on my arms or legs and they power my muscles to pedal it. It brings me back into that mode — I feel like I’m getting a workout. It feels good. I do my legs two times a week, and I also have an arm bike attachment on it, so I’ll do my arms two to three times a week as well.
The other pieces of technology that I use all the time are a sip-and-puff computer mouse from a company called Broadened Horizons, created by a couple of guys with disabilities that sell all sorts of adaptations for computers, phones or even video games. The mouse works perfectly. I can get around and do anything on my computer that anyone else can.
I also have a sip-and-puff straw for my phone that’s made by a company called Tecla. There’s a little box you hook onto the back of your chair that interfaces between the phone and the straw, and it allows me to control everything on my phone the same way I control my wheelchair — I can text, I can call, whatever I need, it’s great.”
When I’m Not Coaching Sports:
I’m watching sports. My dad and I will go to as many professional, college, high school or amateur sporting events as we can — football, basketball, lacrosse, we like getting out to pretty much anything.
Can’t Live Without:
My Handi-Move ceiling lift. It’s so easy to get up and out of bed and into my chair, there’s no jerking around, it’s just awesome. Every time I’m on vacation and I have to use a manual Hoyer lift, I get home and say, “Thank God.”
Advice for the Newly Injured:
It does get better as time goes on. Let the bad stuff roll off your back as best as you can, because there’s nothing you can do about it. Push forward and make what you have better.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I wanted to connect with and help be a resource for people with spinal cord injury throughout our community.