Power wheelchair soccer a boost for former athlete

Monday, August 3, 2009 | 5:22 p.m. CDT; updated 12:20 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Chad Kocina competes with Columbia's power wheelchair soccer team, Driving Force, for the first time at the Show-Me State Games. Kocina was in a car accident in his hometown of Seattle about six years ago that left him paralyzed from just below the chest down. He moved to Columbia and just recently joined the team. He had not played in a game until Aug. 1, when he saw action at goalie.

ASHLAND — Chad Kocina is wearing a bright green Driving Force jersey to go along with a black windbreaker pants and black Reebok shoes. He has tattoos up and down his left arm and part of his chest, as well as piercings in his lip, eyebrow and right ear. And like the other four players on his team, he is in a wheelchair.

Kocina, 27, leans forward and covers his mouth with his left, and only functioning hand, as he watches his power wheelchair soccer team. Driving Force competed in the Show-Me State Games on Saturday afternoon at the Southern Boone County High School gymnasium.

Many of the players competing in the match haven't known life without a wheelchair. Kocina has.

Six years ago, Kocina was in a car accident in his hometown of Seattle that put him in a two-week coma and left him paralyzed from just below the chest down. He has full use of his arms but has no feeling in his right hand, so he is forced to navigate his wheelchair with his left.

"When I woke up, I couldn't feel my legs," Kocina said. "I didn't know what was going on or what had happened."

Before the accident, Kocina said he had a "troubled adolescence" that led him to eventually drop out of high school during his sophomore year. Afterward, he was sent to military school in Nevada, Mo., where he earned his GED after six months and eventually joined the Navy at 19.

After the accident, Kocina's mother advised him to relocate to Columbia where he could go to the Rusk Rehabilitation Center.

"When you go from your first realization of life in a wheelchair, you don't know how you're going to live and how you're going to be treated in society," Kocina said. "I made a specific decision when I came to Columbia to go to Rusk Rehab, and I took what I learned from them and bought an apartment and I'm able to live on my own."

Kocina, who played football in high school, learned about the Driving Force power wheelchair soccer club from his caseworker at Rusk.

"I've liked sports all my life, and I'm just excited to have the chance to compete," Kocina said. "Everyone's very friendly and we get a chance to share our stories and relate to each others' situations."

Kocina has never played in a game before, so he watches the goalies on both teams try to prevent the 13-inch soccer ball from passing through two orange cones set 19 feet apart. Players spin-kick the ball with the side of the wheelchair, or nudge it with the front caged area of their chairs where the players' feet rest.

After a few minutes, Kocina takes over as the Driving Force's goalie. He is shaky and seems a bit uncomfortable in the new setting.

"It's tough out there, I didn't know what to do when they were coming straight at me," Kocina said. "Do I go straight at them? Do I go at an angle? It's tough."

Moments later, Kocina is crossed up on a deflected ball and is beat to the right corner of the goal.

"I'm not quick enough," Kocina says to his coach, Greg Moss.

"Oh, you will be," Moss says. "We'll get you there soon enough."

Moss paces the sidelines, anxiously watching and yelling out words of encouragement and instruction. This is his first coaching position of any kind, and he has been with Driving Force since the team started a year ago.

"I took a social work class at Mizzou and part of the class was to do some volunteer work, and we were asked to join a program and I came across power soccer, and I played soccer in high school, so it interest me," Moss said. "And I've been doing it ever since."

As the game concludes, the players on both teams are helped out of their power wheelchairs and back into their everyday models. Kocina's chair stands apart from the rest with built in speakers in his head rest and decorative stickers on the back and sides. Once he gets situated he rolls up his sleeve to show off his tattoo of a guardian angel overlooking a tattoo of his car wreck.

"I wouldn't change anything that's happened to me for the world," Kocina said as he looked back up. "I'm lucky to be here, and I know that. I took my crisis and turned it into an opportunity." 

Kocina is 10 classes short of graduating from Columbia College with a degree in Computer Science and being able to start a new life away from the only city he's known since he's been in a wheelchair. 

"I know I want to keep playing power soccer while I'm in Columbia," Kocina said. "But I don't know about in the future. I wouldn't mind staying involved, but I really want to work on airplanes in Florida."

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Emily Lorenz August 4, 2009 | 9:25 a.m.

Why call him a former athlete? He might use a wheelchair, but it seems to me that he is still competing as an athlete.

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