Oct. 21, 2011
Mark Christensen is not your typical athlete playing your typical sport. By day, he is in the University of Georgia's athletic training facilities helping rehab players and participating in quarterback meetings. By night, he is practicing for his power soccer games with his team the Athens Power Dogz.
Born with cerebral palsy, Christensen is confined to a wheelchair, but finds power soccer as another way to be involved in something he loves--sports.
"The fact that I'm able to get out there and compete just like everybody else and the team comradery are reasons why I enjoy power soccer," Christensen said.
Power soccer is a competitive team sport designed and developed for persons using a power wheelchair. The game is played in a gymnasium on a regulation basketball court using a 13-inch soccer ball while players move the ball around with the aid of a guard placed in front of the wheelchair. Teams compete on the local, regional, national and worldwide levels.
While the team is still working on getting through the final stages of formation, the Power Dogz scrimmage against each other during their practices at Tuckston United Methodist Church in Athens.
"It entails us going out there and learning different things we need to do like the rules, and we do drills," Christensen said of a normal practice. "It is just like normal soccer but in the chairs."
Once the team can begin competing, games will take place all over the state, including Atlanta and Flowery Branch, and cities throughout the region, like Chattanooga and Birmingham.
The Athens Power Dogz have more than just Christensen's Georgia connections, as the team is coached by Amadou Diop, a member of the athletic department's building staff.
Christensen and Diop got a little help at a recent practice from some UGA friends. Associate Director of Sports Medicine Steve Bryant, student athletic trainer Nick Ferrell and freshmen soccer players Ansley Morgan, Bella Hartley and Kathleen Eastman came out to show their support.
"Being at a Power Dawgz practice for the first time definitely gave me a true appreciation for every aspect of the game," Bryant said. "When I got in a wheelchair I truly realized how tough it was to maneuver, pass and push the ball around the court. What was extra special was seeing the great enthusiasm and love for the game that each of the Power Dawgz displayed."
"I think it opened their eyes to let them see that we can be athletes just like them," Christensen said. "It was exciting for them to be out there and to get their support."