Never would I have thought when I first saw the game of wheelchair rugby during my rehab at The Royal Talbot rehabilitation centre that I’d be fortunate enough to be writing an article about my third Paralympics. I remember quite vividly seeing the sport of wheelchair rugby for the first time in 2005. I was involved in a car accident, where I sustained head injuries, leading to swelling on the brain, a punctured lung, along with the spinal fracture that left me a C6, C7 incomplete quadriplegic. Due to these injuries early on, I was placed into an induced coma for two weeks.
People just living their lives
Initially, it was the physical nature of the sport that caught my eye. On reflection, I also think the wider appeal was just seeing a bunch of individuals that were having fun and living their lives regardless of the spinal injury. As one could understand, following my injury, I had no idea what to expect, nor, really, what to do. What I did know was I wanted to be involved with rugby at some level.
Returning home after 6 months, I mainly concentrated on my physio for a couple years to build my strength, and independence, along with mentally adjusting to the whole situation. I decided to move to Melbourne in 2008. Rugby grew from here to be a bigger part of my life. Building up from local league competition, to state competition, to an invitation to an Australian camp in 2009.
Then fast track 12 years (a couple gold medals and a worldwide pandemic), we arrive at the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Paralympic Games. Personally, I’m surprised it actually went ahead. All things considered, I think Japan did a great job with the background of Covid.
We have all been affected indirectly by Covid, especially us Victorians, and it was no different for the Australian Steelers. In the 12 months leading into the games, the team was unable to travel for international competitions. We had four of our training camps interrupted and some cancelled altogether. One of which was our pre-departure Tokyo camp, where we aimed to have the full squad, but our NSW teammates were blocked by restrictions.
A unique games
One of the key memories I will have for this whole experience is the protocols that were put in place to get these Paralympic games started and running. On our arrival to Japan airport, we were greeted by a full PPE outfitted staff to help process all the athletes. This included several stations where we verified our passports, our pre-departure 72-hour Covid test, along with another Covid test. All up, we had to wait around four hours for all our team to be processed. Once cleared, we then took the bus to the Athletes Village. The whole Australian Paralympic team pretty much had a hotel complex for themselves within the Athletes Village. The rooms were relatively basic but I was happy given that the air con worked and the toilet flushed. I say this with a little tongue in cheek due to the fact that at the previous games in Rio in 2016, the toilets and air con were… well let’s just say a little hit and miss.
We had an initial brief from an Australian Federal Police representative highlighting all our covid protocols. We were not permitted to enter the Food Hall where all the nations would go for their meals. Rather, we had our own set up with two food stations within our apartment complex. These food stations also included a slushy machine which was great given the humid conditions. Movement around the village required a mask at all times. This included movement within the Australian apartment complex as well as in your rooms. The only time we were permitted to not wear a mask was when we were sleeping.
Arriving six days prior to the first game gave us an opportunity to have three training sessions, along with a practice match against Canada. Covid protocols again had influence on the Australian team, resulting in the whole team not being allowed to attend the opening ceremony, as a precautionary measure. Instead we had a get together with a ceremony at the Aussie apartment complex to send off the flag bearers. Restrictions also meant we couldn’t support the other Aussie athletes in their sports.
The very next day our campaign kicked off with our first qualifying match against Denmark. Denmark was stronger than we thought and got over us by one point. Next day we were up against the French. Unfortunately, we went into the game with one player down due to illness. This individual was part of our starting line-up, so he was definitely missed. We weren’t able to play one of our stronger line-ups. But with a hard-fought bout, we got over the French, winning by two goals. Day three saw us come up against the host nation Japan. Another tight contest where we came up short by four goals. Fortunately, due to goal difference, we made the semifinals where we took on the USA. With a tight contest in the first half, USA pulled away in the second half with their relentless defence, winning by seven goals, which meant we missed out on the gold medal game. We instead played off for the bronze medal match, up against Japan again. Sadly, it was a similar result as the pool game, with Japan coming out victors, and winning the bronze medal. Fourth place obviously wasn’t the result we went to the games looking for. Regardless, the team gave it their all and as the old adage goes “it is what it is”. Personally, I was taken by the overwhelming support in the lead up and post the games. With great messages of support regardless of the outcome.
With our campaign done, we had a few days before we flew back to Australia. Flying back, we were fortunate enough to have business class seats, and I must say this makes travelling just a little bit more enjoyable. In this Covid world, flying back into Australia doesn’t mean you get to go home straight away. Rather, I started my two weeks hotel quarantine at the Novotel in the Melbourne CBD. My experience of the hotel quarantine was relatively good. They supplied an ample amount of food, and coffee, so they had me won. Out now in “free Victoria” I’m grateful for the experience. Although, it would have been amazing to have my family and friends (they are collectively called Hosey’s Heroes 🙂 there to celebrate with, and roam the local Japan streets with them post the games. If you were to ask me what the highlight was, I would have to say being able to travel again internationally, and of course, playing with my teammates for Australia (a close 2nd would be flying back Business Class :).
- November 26, 2021