Butler’s Bounce Back: Austin’s wheelchair rugby star
It’s Sunday afternoon at practice and Jeff Butler is locked in.
“I found the sport and I fell in love with it.” Butler said.
The collisions, the goals, the strategy. Butler thrives in the moment these days.
“Having that outlet of hey this is my element, this is what I’m really good at, really helps me keep on track.”
Getting back on track can be one of life’s toughest challenges, and few people know that better than Butler himself.
In 2003, Butler was your typical sports-obsessed middle-schooler. His world centered around the next game until the day that world flipped upside down on his way home from what would become his final football game.
“The SUV was t-boned and I broke my C5 and C6 vertebrae….” Butler explained. “1,000-to-1, 10,000-to-1 odds of walking again kind of thing.”
It took years, but Butler eventually embraced he wasn’t beating ‘those’ odds.
“The point where I really decided I was going to accept and be okay with my life in a wheelchair was when I kind of started getting good at wheelchair rugby.”
Enter the sport that would change his life forever. At age 20, he followed that passion. Butler moved to Austin from his native Indiana where he joined the Texas Stampede wheelchair rugby team. The sport once affectionately called “murderball”, filled the void left by football.
“Wheelchair Rugby not only meets that but it far exceeds it. The physicality is incredible, people fall out of their chair all the time.”
Butler fell plenty of times early on, but these odds he would beat. After four rejections, he finally made Team USA and helped the Americans to a 2016 Paralympic Silver Medal in Rio. And these days when he’s not practicing with Team USA, Butler is training with his Stampede teammates.
“It’s a privilege to call him a friend, I continue to learn from him.” Texas Stampede teammate Daniel Curtis said. “I’ve got more function that he does, but he still tears me up on the court.”
It’s an unlikely journey Butler hopes will leave a lasting impact on those also looking to get back on track.
“But breaking my neck actually enabled me to become a Paralympian and an elite level athlete,” Butler explained. “It’s important to embrace the uncommon opportunities in your life and to embrace the adversity that you have.”
Since returning from Rio, Butler founded his own tech startup and started motivational speaking. To see our full story click the video above.