Mark Zupan doesn't want your pity. And he's not too sure how he feels about being a media darling. But ever since he became the breakout star of Murderball, an inspiring documentary about quadriplegic rugby players with the baddest-looking wheelchairs you've ever seen, the charismatic Zupan's goateed and tattooed image has flooded TVs, magazines, and internet sites. "It's very, very strange," he says. "I did Regis and Kelly this morning. It's kinda cool, but it's also very weird."
The 30-year-old Zupan, who was born in South Euclid, but moved to Florida with his family when he was 3, passed out in the bed of his buddy's pickup truck after a night of drinking a dozen years ago. His friend, also intoxicated, got into his ride, unaware that Zupan was in the back, and left the bar. On the way home, he made a sharp turn, hurling Zupan out of the vehicle and into a ditch, where he was stranded for more than 13 hours.
Zupan now has limited use of his arms and legs. "The biggest misconception is that we're all like Christopher Reeve," he says. "That we can't move our arms, that we can't do anything. Just because I'm in a chair, people think I can't have a conversation. They'll start talking real loud. It's like, fucking dipshit, I'm not deaf."
Murderball follows various quad rugby players as they prepare for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. In addition to profiling Team U.S.A.'s squad (which includes tough-talking guys like Zupan) and Team Canada's ultra-driven coach Joe Soares (a former U.S. player), filmmakers Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro ask all the probing questions (e.g., can quadriplegics have sex? The answer's definitely yes, and Zupan and his pals happily share techniques on film).
The film's most touching moment traces Zupan's budding relationship with Keith Cavill, a young Motocross racer left in a wheelchair after a recent bike accident. Murderball captures Cavill's life-affirming introduction to the sport. "I felt the same way he did," says Zupan. "You think, wow, this is something new. This is something I didn't even think was possible."