By Ryley Batt
The Australian Steelers were very excited to arrive in New Zealand last month to compete at the Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Auckland, and there were so many things we looked forward to during this important trip.
The Steelers had worked hard to keep up our momentum since winning the Paralympic title for the second time in a row. But away from being on the court with the other strong teams in attendace, I knew myself and the guys were really looking forward to seeing the competition come together, and continuing our collective work to grow wheelchair rugby on a global scale.
I know most people would think the rivalry between Australia and NZ would be fierce and all about results – a bit like it is with the Wallabies and All Blacks. But things work a little differently for us.
As teams, we love any opportunity to compete together, particularly outside of a Paralympic Games or World Championships, and particularly enjoy the chance to work with other countries to strengthen our sport. And that’s what I love about all Para-sport in general.
As wheelchair rugby continues to evolve and build a following, I really look forward to seeing sports fans around the world really embrace this too. Wheelchair rugby and Para-sport is most definitely about the best of the best competing in fair, tough competition, but it’s also about so much more.
Winning another gold medal at the Paralympics in Rio last year was no doubt one of the highlights of my career, but what I loved most was talking to people watching at home and seeing what they got out of it.
I loved hearing about how noticeable it was that each team co-operated with each other, staff, coaches and officials and how things worked smoothly. I loved hearing comments about how each team pumped each other up and were proud of each other’s achievements on and off the court.
Para-sport, and wheelchair rugby specifically, is about getting out there and being courageous. Putting everything in for your team and for everyone at home. I know all of us in the Steelers get so much out of surprising our friends, family and fans out there with what we can do. We’re always so determined to do that.
Being able to do that, with athletes from other countries who are also up there with the best, most definitely has an effect on the wider community – whether we’re motivating them personally or whether we’re breaking down misconceptions about disability.
And that’s what I was most looking forward to about being in New Zealand.
To the sports fans in Auckland, and even the ones following their teams from home, I hope these matches empowered and excited you. Beyond the thrill of the metal on metal clash, I hope that you left the stadium inspired, motivated and pumped up to see more from us – more of our ability in our sports, rather than our disabilities.
As expected, the big guns were firing in Auckland, with teams from New Zealand, Japan, South Korean and Australia giving their all.
It was great to have so much support behind us, seeing. I can’t wait to hear what you came away with.
I’m looking forward to next year’s World Championship in Sydney which will be an exciting opportunity to further promote disability sport in Australia, New Zealand and around the world.
Ryley Batt is the captain of the Australian wheelchair rugby team and a four-time Paralympian. Regarded as one of the best wheelchair rugby athletes in the world, he has helped lead the Australia to two Paralympic gold medals and one world championship.