By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Perseverance and team spirit led to a first-place win in a national tournament in Omaha, NE for Matt Dalbec of Winsted and his wheelchair softball team, the Courage Center Adult Rolling Twins.
To make the win even more meaningful, the team dedicated the tournament to Robert Greniger, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in July. Robert is the son of the team’s third baseman, Kurt Greniger.
“It got pretty emotional,” Dalbec said about the ceremony following the tournament.
Kurt Greniger, 52, of Greenfield, is the oldest player on the Rolling Twins team. He is both a wheelchair basketball and softball player, and has been a paralympic athlete, according to Dalbec.
It was Kurt who originally recruited Dalbec to wheelchair sports about three years ago, after the two met at the Fourth of July festival in Delano.
“He called later and asked me to try basketball and I had a blast. We went to Denver and Chicago all over the place,” Dalbec said.
It was a new beginning for Dalbec, who had been playing sports his entire life, until he had a car accident in 2006, that paralyzed him from the waist down and put him in a wheelchair.
The accident happened on his way home to Winsted after leaving a bar in Buffalo. He admits he had been drinking.
“I made it about two miles east of town when I passed out and hit a road approach,” Dalbec said. “I woke up 17 days later and couldn’t feel or move my legs.”
He was 24 years old.
Dalbec had started playing t-ball at 4 years old, played baseball and basketball through high school, until his graduation from Howard Lake Waverly-Winsted in 2000, and enjoyed water sports.
Discovering the many activities available in wheelchair sports has been life-changing for Dalbec, who wants others to know about them, as well.
The chance to experience “the camaraderie with the team, and just being outside, hitting the ball again,” Dalbec said, “I never knew these opportunities were available. I got to see all kinds of things I wouldn’t have ever seen without being in a wheelchair and playing sports with these guys.”
Last year, Dalbec traveled to Chicago, Denver, New York, and Pittsburgh for basketball and softball.
“You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself, or you can go out and keep living,” Dalbec said. “I don’t like to feel sorry for anybody, let alone myself.”
The Rolling Twins wheelchair softball champs are managed by Courage Center which is a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center. In addition to the Rolling Twins, Courage Center also manages two other wheelchair softball teams, the Rolling Saints and the Jr. Rolling Twins (ages 7 to 16).
Courage Center has been raising funds to build a new softball field for the teams, which will be located just north of the Brooklyn Park community center’s asphalt parking lot, where the team currently meets and plays ball twice a week.
Dalbec is excited to have the work completed.
“We have the land. It’s all set up and we are going to start breaking ground,” Dalbec added.
When the field is finished, the baselines will be permanently painted and the outfields will be green, but it’s asphalt and it will be “beautiful,” Dalbec added.
The Rolling Twins’ softball season begins in April. Each week, the team practices on Tuesday, and has a game every Thursday at 6 p.m.
Special wheelchairs are required for sports with wheels that are at an angle, and a rigid fifth wheel is in the back to make it more difficult for the chair to tip over. Also, a bumper goes across the front to protect toes.
Even with the extra safety precautions taken, accidents still happen. Dalbec said he has gone over backwards in his wheelchair, even with the additional wheel in the back.
There isn’t any protection for hands and fingers unless the players use a glove, but Dalbec said he doesn’t wear one because it’s too hard to push the wheelchair around with one hand in a glove.
“So, fingers get broken when there is a hard hit. I got it last summer. I taped it up and finished the game,” Dalbec said.
Learning to throw has been the most difficult part of playing softball from a wheelchair, according to Dalbec who plays second base.
“It’s because of the technique. When you throw normally, standing up, your whole body goes into it,” Dalbec said. “when you throw from a sitting position, you can only really use your shoulders.”
Every winter, Dalbec has a basketball fundraiser to help fund his team’s travel and help out with the Junior Rolling Twins.
“But mostly, it’s to bring awareness to this area that there is something for people in wheelchairs, and I want them to know these opportunities are available.”
Just to keep things from getting too boring, Dalbec is considering other sporting options himself this coming year, possibly putting aside his wheelchair.
“I might try ice hockey this winter,” he said. “Using short hockey sticks with ice picks in them, the players propel themselves across the ice while sitting in a sled just a little wider than your hips; your legs are straight ahead, in front of you. There is a skate on each side of the back and one in the front.”
Another sport Dalbec is also trying to talk his teammates into trying is skydiving. He is hoping that an upcoming team party will include his teammates jumping out of a plane at the Winsted Airport.
Since his accident five years ago, Dalbec has gone back to school. He graduated from Ridgewater College in Hutchinson last spring with an associate’s degree in computer-aided drafting design.
He enjoys his job at SM Associates Construction in Monticello, which designs, engineers, and builds grain elevators, feed mills, steel bins, jumpform silos, flat grain storage buildings, refineries, slipform concrete silos, and water towers.
Anyone interested in trying wheelchair sports can contact Dalbec at email@example.com.
“Come out and give it a try. If you don’t like it, at least you can say you gave it a shot,” Dalbec said.
Rolling Twins team members and coaches
The tournament in Omaha was sponsored by the National Wheelchair Softball Association (NWSA), which uses Amateur Softball Association (ASA) certified umpires for its official games.
Men and women from Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota on the Rolling Twins team include:
• Jerry Anderson, Maple Grove;
• Joe Arends, Cambridge;
• Scott Berg, Plymouth;
• Jon Bluem, Eden Prairie;
• Brian Chavez, Brooklyn Park;
• Charlie Clausen, Maple Grove;
• Matt Dalbec, Winsted;
• Brendan Downes, Rosemount;
• Ray Garcia, Coon Rapids;
• Kurt Greniger, Greenfield;
• Manny Guerra, Plymouth;
• Wyatt Halvorson, Northwood, ND;
• Josh Hammer, Plymouth;
• Jake Karels, Waverly;
• Meah Koop, Minneapolis;
• Justin Kunz, St. Paul;
• Brian Liepod, Burnsville;
• Jason Miller, Green Bay, WI;
• Karen Nichols, Brooklyn Center;
• Chad O’Fallon, Shakopee;
• David Richardson, Plymouth;
• Scott Rickford, Medina;
• Andy Roach, Vadnais Heights;
• Jamie Roach, St. Paul;
• Evan Thorn, Elk River.
The all tournament team at nationals included Chavez, Downes, Greniger, Guerra, and O’Fallon. In addition, Greniger received the sportsmanship award, and Downes was named tournament MVP.