Hawthorn is one club, many teams, including a wheelchair footy and an AFL Blind team. With lots of time to be spent at home over the coming weeks, we thought it was the perfect time for Hawks fans to learn a little bit more about the players that make up these teams. Hawthorn’s Wheelchair and Blind football teams are made possible by the club’s social inclusion partner, Afford, one of Australia’s longest serving disability service providers.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do outside of footy?
I am 25 and I am currently working my dream job in education support. I am working at Fairhill’s Primary School at the moment as a teachers aid, I have always known I wanted to work with kids so I feel lucky to live one of my dreams.
So, you play wheelchair AFL, what made you pursue AFL and how did you get involved?
My mates have been nagging me since the wheelchair AFL competition began to get involved with the sport because footy is my thing, its my passion but I couldn’t be due to a few things going on in my life at the time. Troy Hawkins a fellow Hawthorn wheelchair player and good mate sent me a come and try flyer that the club sent out, my sister simultaneously sent it to me, both said I have to do this! I went to that, fell in love with the game and the rest is history.
Can you briefly explain how wheelchair AFL is played and what does it mean for you to play?
Basically, the game is played on a basketball court and like basketball it’s five players per side. We play with three zones similar to netball: only defenders can only go in the defensive third and middle third, forwards can go in the middle third and forward third and are also the only players on the court that can score and, the centre can go anywhere on the court. A kick in wheelchair footy is replaced by a handball and a handball is replaced by an underarm throw.
Wheelchair sports have a wide range of people who participate, with various stories and challenges. What was your pathway into wheelchair sport and what are some of the challenges you face daily and in sport?
I have Spina Bifida and I am paralysed from about the bellybutton down. I think one of the biggest challenges I face is actually people having different definitions and opinions on accessibility. I have had a few incidents where a restaurant or venue would say to me that they have ramps, and everything is accessible for me, but once I arrive there would be a set of stairs up to that ramp that I couldn’t get up. That would be one of the biggest challenges, where you can sometimes feel a bit out of sight, out of mind. In terms of footy, I don’t have very good balance, so I am more suited to playing off the ball. I struggle to pick up the ball and move with it, but you can’t do too much about the cards you’ve been drawn. I’m just so proud to be wearing the Hawks colours and be playing footy.
What does it mean to be drafted to Hawthorn Football clubs wheelchair team?
It’s an absolute dream come true, I have supported the club my whole life. So many kids grow up wanting to play for the Hawks and want to emulate their heroes and favourite players. I was born without the ability to walk but I was no different, I wanted to follow the footsteps of my idols and play football. To actually be told that I am good enough to live my dream and play football means everything and honestly brings tears to my eyes. It’s a dream come true.
Have you played any other sports? What level?
I have played wheelchair basketball and represented Victoria about five times. I started playing wheelchair basketball at age 10 at a school’s competition, and actually got fouled off because I didn’t know the rules. I decided to take it a bit more seriously in my teens, and have played four times in the Kevin Coombs Cup which is the Junior Nationals for wheelchair basketball.
Do you have any heroes or people you aspire to be like?
I love the Backman, it’s such an underrated position. I love James Sicily and actually met him at a NAIDOC week event at Waverley Park which was an incredible experience. I love every player that has worn the brown and gold but if I was to name a couple it would be: Jack Scrimshaw, CJ, and Blake Hardwick, they’re all amazing but you cant go past Shane Crawford and Hodgey.
What is your ultimate sporting goal and what is a life goal of yours?
A sporting goal would be to win a flag with the Hawks! A life goal will be to one day go to America, (once we can get overseas) and to stay in the education sector and keep learning and experiencing new things within the sector.
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
I would love to have played a bit more footy, but I have actually been able to go into work which has been really nice. It has been tough to not be able to go out and do things, and really live life to the fullest, but I’m looking forward to hopefully getting back into everything soon.
If you could encourage someone in a similar position to you to try your sport what would you say to them?
You just have to have a go. If it’s a dream like mine, go to come and try days, see if you can join in at training or a community program, contact clubs or organisations and stick your wheel in the door and give it a crack. I think Michael Jordan said you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take, and I really believe that.
How has this year panned out for the team and what are excited about moving Forward?
I think of Hawthorn as more than a footy club. It’s a club that doesn’t care who you are, what gender you are, what you look like, disability or not, if you’re willing to do what it takes and embrace the club, then you belong at the club. It is something that I have felt all my life as a fan, but now I feel it as a player and that identity is something I want to continue to grow with this group. Training has been great this year, although we haven’t played too many games, we definitely feel like a little family which has been amazing.
We would like to thank you for being a part of our series; we cannot wait to watch your journey
Hawthorn’s Wheelchair Team is made possible thanks to the support of the club’s new social inclusion partner, Afford. With over 65 years of experience, Afford are one of Australia’s longest serving disability service providers. To find out more, please click here.