In our Tokyo Experiences series, athletes share what it felt like to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games. Shae Graham is the first woman to play for the Australian wheelchair rugby team, the Steelers.
Towards the end of 2014 I jumped in a rugby chair for the first time, not long after I set myself a what I thought was a ridiculous goal – to play wheelchair rugby for Australia at the Paralympics. For the last two- and a-bit years I have been training for and working towards achieving that goal and this year I was named as one of the 12 players to make the Australian Steelers Paralympic team. For most of 2020 and all of 2021 I was worried that the Paralympic games would be cancelled due to Covid19, and it wasn’t until I actually got on the plane to Tokyo that the excitement of the games really set in. When we arrived in Tokyo, we were at the airport for hours going through border security, showing vaccination status, completing covid tests and waiting for results. That was the first taste of how things at the games were going to be different. The athlete’s village was near Tokyo Bay and was buzzing with energy. Even though covid restrictions were in place there were people everywhere and it was cool to see all the different athletes wearing their team uniforms and see all the different flags decorating each of the buildings. We had four days of training before the games were to start and that was the first time the whole team had been together in a year. Border closures had meant that we couldn’t all get together until we were in Tokyo, those four days were fun but hard work.
Our first game was against Denmark. It’s hard to describe how I felt wheeling onto the court and lining up to sing the National Anthem, but I think the most fitting word is proud. I felt so much pride being able to represent my country playing a sport that I love and that is a feeling I will never forget. Though the seats were empty the stadium was full of energy, and excitement and it was good to be back playing rugby at an international level. I had to wait until game two, against France, to make my Paralympic debut and was given minutes in all our remaining games. The Paralympics is the ultimate stage, and I am thankful I got the opportunity to play on it. As a team, we didn’t get the result we wanted losing to Japan in the bronze medal match. Our team like so many others faced a ridiculous number of obstacles in the lead up and during the games and I am proud of how we faced them together as a team. Playing at the Paralympic Games was an amazing experience. Tokyo 2020 was a unique Olympic/ Paralympic games and I am so very grateful that I got to be apart to it.
- October 26, 2021