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Hawks wheelchair footballer at Invictus Games

Wheelchair Footy 'It was really special' Hawthorn's Peter Oguneyemi spoke about the inaugural season and what the team is planning for 2019.

Hawthorn Football Club wheelchair player Sam Maraldo recently competed in the seated volleyball competition at the Invictus Games in Sydney.  

Maraldo, 40, served in the Royal Australian Navy as an electronic technician for seven years, during which time he served in South-East Asia and the Pacific region as well as being involved in border protection operations.

Unfortunately, worsening bilateral hip, knee and shoulder injuries as well as a degenerative back condition, led to his discharge in 2015. He has also suffered from depression and anxiety.

The Invictus Games providing a motivating factor in his recovery.

At the London games in 2014, Maraldo won a silver medal in archery. But medals aside, being involved in the games was a breakthrough in itself.

Watch: The Hawks boys try out wheelchair football

“It was my first time since I had my injuries,” he told news.com.au.

“It was no longer me thinking ‘I can’t do this’ and it became ‘I can do this’. It opened up a door that I thought was closed to me. I thought sports were closed to me.

“(This time) I only got called into the team two weeks before. So I didn’t get the build up of a solid four or five months preparation the others had.

“This time it was just being part of a team and I got a lot out of it.”

Unlike most sporting events, there was no real home ground advantage for the Australians in Sydney.

“Regardless of whether you are the home nation or not, everybody there really supports each other,” Maraldo said. “They’re all people who have served their country.

“I don’t think it matters where it’s at, but being the home crowd you got a little bit more support.

“They talk about the Invictus family, you’re part of one big family.

“It’s not about winning, it makes it a very different competition to something like the Olympics or Paralympics.

“For some competitors, winning is just getting out there.

“Everybody has got a story to tell. Some people don’t talk about it as much as others. But everybody has a story that is unique.

“There’s no medal table, it’s just not the be-all and end-all.”

Maraldo said one of the biggest successes of the Games is that it can gradually open the conversation about mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder — issues that can have a great impact on ex-defence personnel but are often ignored or swept under the carpet.

“You can be yourself,” he said of the Games. “We can spend so much of our lives not feeling normal. In the Games, everyone is normal. It’s probably the main thing on show.

“It caused a lot of discussion about mental health. Once that conversation becomes normal to have, things will get better.​ The more it’s talked about, the less it becomes a stigma.”

More recently, Maraldo took the court with Hawthorn’s team for the inaugural season of the Victorian Wheelchair Football League.

“It’s been the greatest club to be involved with,” he said of the Hawks. “I have never followed Hawthorn but to see an AFL side like that, the way they genuinely care about the sport has been quite outstanding on their part.”

While the Hawks’ on field record wasn’t great this year — 0-8 for the wooden spoon — Maraldo said being part of the fledgling league was a win in itself.

“It’s been an honour to have been able to play in this first season,” he said. “It’s forming a base for future people who want to play. We’re trying to develop a culture.

“We’d like to win a few more games, but winning isn’t everything. It isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s got to be seen as an experience everyone can enjoy.​

“It’s about making people with a disability realise they can play top level sport.”

 


The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs