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Rare Neuromuscular Disease Can't Slow this Quadriplegic Rugby Player Down

Middletown's Zack Capitao and the rest of the Connecticut Jammers put up a fierce fight against the able-bodied Connecticut Greys Sunday, ending this full-contact sport matchup one point behind their opponents.

Zack Capitao of Middletown playing rugby
Zack Capitao of Middletown playing rugby

Staring down adversity is something athlete and college student Zack Capitao of Middletown does every day.

This past weekend, Capitao, who has been in a wheelchair since his freshman year of high school due to a rare neuromuscular disease called Charcote-Marie-Tooth, and the rest of his wheelchair rugby team fiercely took on their able-bodied opponents at the annual match between the CT Jammers and the Connecticut Grey Rugby Team at New Horizons Village, Unionville.

The Greys beat the Jammers 33 to 32.

Charcote-Marie-Tooth is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affecting about 1 in 2,500 people in the United States, but it hasn't slowed Capitao down. He's stayed in involved in sports beyond his diagnosis, traveled throughout Eastern Europe and graduated from high school with high honors, and is now a criminal justice major at the University of New Haven.

The Connecticut Jammers Quad Rugby Team is the state’s only quad rugby team and is sponsored by Gaylord Hospital. The Jammers compete in tournaments throughout the Northeast. 

The team provides new competitive opportunities for athletes with quadriplegia to compete against other athletes in the region. The Connecticut Jammers is a member of the United States Quad Rugby Association.

In May, Capitao won $1,000, a certificate for a free weekend van rental, and a $1,000 donation made in his name to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association from Advanced Wheels of Granby as winner of its Local Inspirations contest. The event coincided with National Mobility Awareness Month and the company's 25th anniversary. 

People were asked to nominate someone who had "persevered and stared down adversity despite being wheelchair-bound" and Capitao's grandparents took up the challenge as each wrote a letter describing his fortitude in the face of a disease that is destroying their grandson's nerves, causing his muscles to atrophy.

In 2010, Capitao was among four members of the Camp Hemlocks Green Power House Gang who completed an impressive renovation project of the Adventure Course at the now closed Easter Seals summer camp for kids and adults with disabilities in Hebron.

His team worked for nine months to renovate and improve pathways throughout the course, build new benches and fully renovate two “stations” at the course. 

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