Tragic accidents often leave people without hope for the future, but in the case of Mark Zupan, he would not trade being a quadriplegic for his old life.
On Feb. 2, ASI Events hosted the showing of the award-winning documentary “Murderball.” Mark Zupan, the film’s star and captain of the U.S. Quadriplegic Rugby Team spoke to a crowd of about 160 students, community members and alumni about the Oscar-nominated movie and his life-changing accident.
“It’s not just a film about wheelchairs, it’s about life,” Zupan said. “It’s about stuff that goes wrong. … You have two choices; you can say ‘screw it, I don’t want to deal with it’ or you can make the best of it. I think that comes through (in the movie).”
When he was 18, Zupan passed out drunk in his friend Christopher Igoe’s truck bed. Later, the truck crashed and Zupan was thrown from the vehicle into a river where he was found 18 hours later. That was 12 years ago. Zupan, now 30, has done more with his life than he ever expected.
“This (accident) is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Zupan said. “I would never trade it to walk again. I’ve been to more places; I’ve met more people and received a medal in the paralympics. I would not have been able to do the things I did if I didn’t break my neck. I closed an 18-year-old chapter and started a new one.”
“Murderball” won multiple awards at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and recently received an Oscar nomination for best documentary. The film discussed the intense sport of quadriplegic rugby, known as “murderball,” and focused on the individual players and their stories and struggles.
“What they put together (in ‘Murderball’) was a great depiction of how we (quadriplegics) live life,” Zupan said.
The movie also hit audiences on an emotional level, and showed firsthand how quadriplegics deal with life on a day-to-day basis. In the film, an 18-year-old named Keith experiences rehab after a motocross accident left him with a broken neck.
“What’s good about the film was Keith,” Zupan said. “Keith went through everything that we went through … You have to figure out the little things in life that you took advantage of, and I think they did a good job in the film of showing that.”
Zupan discussed many of the changes he had to adapt to and how, after his accident, his “modesty was gone.”
“My first Halloween (after the accident), I went to the Gap with a friend to get a sweatshirt. She was dressed liked a cat and I was ‘all gimped up,’” Zupan said. “The guy comes up and says, ‘Hey man, nice costume’ and I said, ‘I wish it was.’ He turned white and started to apologize and I said, ‘It’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ That’s when I learned that people are going to stare.”
In high school, Zupan had played soccer and after the crash, was able to redirect his passion for sports in rugby.
“Rugby is great because where else can you knock the shit out of somebody,” Zupan said.
Zupan also said the movie was effective because it overcame stereotypes about the physically disabled.
“The biggest misconception about quadriplegics is that we can’t use our arms,” Zupan said. “I have gotten in fist fights over people arguing with me that I’m not a quadriplegic because I can use my arms.”
Audience members also felt the movie was a strong representation of life in a wheelchair. Zoli Harway graduated from Cal Poly in 1994. He broke his neck when he was 18.
“I saw the movie at The Palm,” said Harway, now 40. “It was very moving. … The guys who put it together did an awesome job. To actually make a movie that is honest, emotional and real is a really tough job.”
Zupan’s message to the audience was not let life overcome you.
“There is so much to do, and for us to show newly injured people, and to go out there and have fun,” said Zupan. “That is what it’s all about, just to be able to show people that there are other things to do, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Do whatever it is you want to do, don’t let something in life like an accident keep you from doing it.”
For more information on Zupan and the documentary “Murderball,” visit www.murderballmovie.com