- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

Mark Zupan is one of the principal reasons why moviegoers who discover the documentary feature “Murderball” will come away with an altered perspective on physical disability.

Mr. Zupan, 30, a native of Cleveland, now resides in Austin, Texas, where he works as a civil engineer. He also suits up as a professional athlete and tries to score as often as possible as a striker for the Texas Stampede, the top-rated team in the United States Quad Rugby Association, whose regular season runs from October to April, encompassing about three dozen teams in several divisions.

“There are more teams in the South,” Mr. Zupan observes during a conversation at the Fairmont Hotel. “Guys in wheelchairs do migrate to the South a lot because it’s warmer. You don’t have to deal with snow….”

Quad rugby seems to have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 15 years. The game is played on basketball courts with a volleyball. Riding in customized, armored wheelchairs designed to absorb frequent collisions, players (four to a team) attempt to advance the ball downcourt to cross the opponent’s goal line. The contest is divided into 8-minute quarters.

Mr. Zupan has emerged as the most dynamic embodiment of the sport since “Murderball” surfaced at the Sundance Film Festival in January. By the time of the New York and Los Angeles premieres last month, he had also become a slightly diabolical sex symbol on magazine covers, where his heavily muscled and tattooed torso vied with a lean and penetrating gaze for optimum aggressive-sardonic impact.



“Murderball,” now at the Cinema Arts and the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema, traces two years of competition, in which members of the American national team play close-fought matches against a bitter rival, Team Canada. The movie recalls the injuries and recoveries experienced by key players, but although the bumper-car aspects of the sport are a photogenic sensation, far more footage is devoted to case histories and intimate, off-court human interest.

Mark Zupan was injured in a freak auto accident when he was an 18-year-old college freshman and varsity soccer player. He spent a long night clinging to life in a canal before he was discovered and rushed to a hospital. Classified as an incomplete quadriplegic, he cannot walk but retains a good deal of upper body strength and flexibility. In the sport, he qualifies for a 3.0 rating; players with minimal impairment are classified as 3.5. No squad can field players whose combined ratings exceed 8.0 at any given time.

Mr. Zupan believes the Washington area probably merits some additional missionary work in order to field a team of its own. He sensed plenty of potential during a visit to Walter Reed Hospital last year, before the movie was even available as an incentive.

“I think the Iraqi war veterans could be a significant new talent pool,” Mr. Zupan says. “We did a demonstration of the sport at Walter Reed and had some training sessions. At that time the idea was just to introduce quad rugby and get some guys involved. We put ‘em in rugby chairs and let ‘em hit….The interest was definitely there. For all wheelchair sports, not just ours.”

Mr. Zupan anticipates a campaign of “active recruiting” sooner or later at Walter Reed and similar medical institutions. “We’re a little like ambulance chasers,” he quips. “We’ll go wherever people have been hurt and might be looking for athletic competition as part of the recovery process. You can do a lot in the chair. The sport has pretty much made me the person I am today. If I can share that, it would be awesome.”

Mann-a-thon

The Goethe-Institut, the city’s pre-eminent German cultural organization, has arrived at the halfway point of a revival series devoted to movie versions of novels written by members of the celebrated Mann family. The next selection, scheduled for Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m., is a 1959 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s social epic “Buddenbrooks,” which chronicles a family commercial dynasty from 1835 to 1877. Directed by Alfred Weidenmann, it’s available only in a German print without subtitles.

The series, titled “Great Novels, Great Films,” continues Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m. with “The Kaiser’s Lackey.” Based on a Heinrich Mann novel, the film was directed in 1951 by Wolfgang Staudte, who defected to West Germany two years later and sustained a successful career for the next generation or so. “Lackey” is available in a version with subtitles, but the satirical comedy will be shown in a 16mm print without them.

The final program on Aug. 29 retrieves a prominent art-house attraction of the early 1980s: “Mephisto,” Istvan Szabo’s adaptation of a novel by Klaus Mann, son of Thomas and nephew of Heinrich, about an ambitious young actor who makes a Faustian pact with the Nazi hierarchy while promoting his theatrical career in the early 1930s. Klaus Maria Brandauer became an international star with his role as the compromised protagonist. “Mephisto” is happily available in a 35mm subtitled print.

WHAT: “Great Novels, Great Films,” movie versions of novels by members of the Mann family

WHERE: The Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh Street NW.

WHEN: Consult Web site for screening times

TICKETS: General admission is $6. Members, students and seniors qualify for the discount price of $4.

PHONE: 202/289-1200

WEB SITE: www.goethe.de/washington

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