For a guy who’ll steamroll you like a little lost squirrel if you get between him and the goal line, Michael Lykins describes his love for the bruising sport of quad rugby in disarmingly subdued tones. Statements like “I’m a competitive, athletic person” and “I love contact, obviously” sound so…tame. You’d never know the 19-year-old has a gift for smash-mouth intensity or he’s come this close to a spot on the U.S. National Team and a chance to compete in the 2010 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation World Championships. And he’ll put to use that proclivity for punishment March 13 to 15 when he and the Seattle Slam host the United States Quad Rugby Association Pacific Section Championship at Seattle University’s Connolly Center.
It’s a brutal, physical sport of collisions and clanging, which makes Lykins’s rise to star status all the more impressive. Two years ago this month, Lykins broke his neck and lost the use of his legs after rolling his Jeep on the way to work. But just four months later, after watching Murderball, the 2005 Academy Award–nominated documentary about quad rugby, he was making the two-hour trip to a rec center in West Seattle from his hometown of Blaine twice a week to practice with the Slam. Then last December, he got a surprise invitation to try out for Team USA, which had just snagged the gold at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. “I wasn’t expecting an invitation that soon,” he says. “I’d only been playing one season.”
That lack of experience was the only thing that robbed him of a roster slot then, but the Slam’s team manager, Wimsey Cherrington, thinks Lykins’s athleticism and passion for bringing the pain make him all but a lock to join the team later this year. “He’s pretty amazing,” she says. (Biased? Maybe, but she’s also the vice president of the United States Quad Rugby Association, so she knows from national talent.)
In other words, this month’s tournament might be your last chance to say you saw him before he went on to deal out body blows in the big time.