USF faculty member shares in gold medal experience

Volunteering as athletic trainer for Team USA Quad Rugby turned into gold for Jeff Konin, PhD, ATC, PT, FACSM, FNATA, associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.

Dr. Konin went on the road with the team of elite wheelchair rugby players last month when they competed and won the gold medal for the World Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Americans went undefeated in 2010 en route to winning the recent gold and haven’t lost a match at a World Championships or Paralympic Games since 2004.

Dr. Jeff Konin, standing second from right on back row, with the winning team. 

In his role as the team’s athletic trainer, Dr. Konin helps coordinate all aspects of the athletes’ health care, including assessing an athlete’s skin for open wounds to managing rotator cuff tendinitis, transferring athletes to and from their game chairs, assisting with their equipment needs, and keeping close tabs on their overall health in preparation for international competition.

“I am very fortunate to have shared in the lives of such amazing individuals,” Dr. Konin said. “Beyond their tremendous accomplishments as athletes, each and every one of them is an even better human being. These Olympians have been dealt challenges in life that they have overcome to become the best in the world at what they do.”

Each member of the team has experienced a different circumstance that brought on quadriplegia.  Conditions range from spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders. Their intense love for the game inspired the documentary 2005 television “Murderball.”

Nick Springer (Tampa) experienced amputations to both arms and both legs as a result of contracting bacterial meningitis when he was 14.  Despite this, he has thrived as an Olympic and World champion as part of Team USA. Today, he serves as a role model to others and a spokesperson for the National Meningitis Association (

“An athlete can only be as good as the support he has, and with Jeff the support was excellent,” Springer said. “Athletes with disabilities often have injuries, ranging from mild cuts to bench-threatening tears and infections. Jeff got us back on our feet (so to speak) so we could do our jobs and play like the champions we are.”

Jason Regier is another member of Team USA who won a gold medal in the 2008 Paralympic Games held in Beijing and was also named U.S. Quad Rugby Association’s Athlete of the Year for that year.  Regier was a collegiate soccer player who in 1996 was involved in a car accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. In addition to being a member of Team USA, Regier now serves as a powerful role model, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and much sought after speaker throughout the United States talking about the ability to overcome daunting challenges in life.

“Meeting individuals like Nick and Jason, who must overcome obstacles with each and every daily task they perform without complaining and without seeking empathy from anyone else who is able bodied, is truly inspirational to me,” said Dr. Konin. “They taught me a lot about the sport of wheelchair rugby, and the time we have spent together in preparation for the World Games in Vancouver allowed us to develop a friendship and bond that will last a lifetime.”

James Gumbert (Austin, Texas), head coach of the team, has been involved with wheelchair rugby for more than 20 years.�
“The pursuit of perfection for us happens on a daily basis,” Gumbert said.

“For us, the rewards of these high standards are shown in our performance on the international stage. Our journey to the world championships was mired with injuries and health issues. Without Jeff (ATC) we would not have had the team ready (from a health stand point) to defend the title.”

USA Wheelchair Rugby travels the world and continues to improve by competing against other elite wheelchair rugby players. To learn more about quad rugby and the USA Wheelchair Rugby team link on to  Anyone can help change lives by giving these athletes with disabilities opportunities to compete for excellence on the court and success in life.

Next up for Team USA? The 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England!