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.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do outside of footy?
I’m 46-years-old and happily married with 12-year-old triplet girls. I work at Monash University as a database administrator. Outside of footy I play wheelchair rugby, we go mountain biking, water skiing, snow skiing. I'm also a head netball coach at Dromana Football/Netball Club. Our family is heavily involved in sport, my girls play football as well, so our weekends are very busy and flat out with sport which we love.
So, you play wheelchair AFL, what made you pursue AFL and how did you get involved?
I've seen bits and pieces of the sport online over the last couple of years which made me quite curious about it, especially seeing that Hawthorn had a team as well. I saw that Hawthorn was holding a come and try day and I thought, I’m not getting any younger so I may as well give it a go before I get too old. I went along with one of my mates from rugby and really enjoyed it. It was a great opportunity to get involved with Hawthorn and honestly, I wouldn’t have played anywhere else.
Can you briefly explain how wheelchair AFL is played and what does it mean for you to play?
Wheelchair AFL is played on an indoor basketball court. We use the markings and thirds of a netball court, there are five players on each team, two defenders, a centre and two forwards. The two defenders can only stay in the defensive half, the centre player can go anywhere, and the forwards can only go in the forward half. Only the forwards can score. Kicking is substituted with a conventional handball and handballing is substituted with an underarm throw. Goals are worth six points and behinds are worth one point. It’s a good, fun game!
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?
On June 30 in 2006, I was riding to work on my motorbike when a courier driver ran a red light and t-boned me in the middle of an intersection. I broke a lot of body parts and was in hospital for 11 months after the accident.
I'm now a paraplegic with a brachial plexus injury. I've lost the use of my lower limbs, I can’t walk or stand which makes me permanently wheelchair bound, I have nerve damage from my neck down to my left arm, therefore I have no shoulder or bicep muscles in my left arm which means I physically can’t lift my arm up. Everything I do in life is one handed.
I'm a very positive person and one of the best things that happened was the doctor telling me that I would never walk again. It wasn't an if or but, it was ‘you will never walk again’. I thought okay this has happened, lets move on. I only got upset once in the 11 months I was in hospital. I got told I needed another surgery after having a countless number of them prior. I threw my remote control against the wall and it smashed into a million pieces. The next day, a good mate brought in a shock proof universal remote, that was a good moment that helped me through. At the end of the day you have to live life. You can't wallow on what’s happened when you've had a lucky escape.
Have you played any other sports? What level?
I got involved with wheelchair sport during rehab at the royal Talbot in Kew. I started playing a lot of tennis, there was nothing else to do. I was in hospital for 11 months after my accident which was so boring, so it was good to get out and do something as I was very active prior to my injury. I played a tennis tournament the first weekend out of rehab which was great. I then traveled around the world for the next four or five years playing wheelchair tennis on the professional circuit. I had to quit tennis due to a torn tendon in my elbow. A couple of years later I started playing wheelchair rugby and played for Victoria and Australia and here we are today playing footy.
Do you have any heroes or people you aspire to be like?
I’m not the type to get to giddy about athletes or heroes, the way I see it is that they’re just people who are just good at their chosen profession. I do admire people though. I admire Roger Federer, Valentino Rossi for what they have done in sport. One Hawthorn player I really admire is Dermott Brereton. I played Teale Cup for the state and our closing ceremony was at a Hawthorn v Carlton game at Waverly Park. We got to go into the changerooms after the match and Dermott ushered us all under the barrier and talked to us for about an hour. He brought in all the other players, talking about their memories of when they played Teale Cup. It was a moment I will always remember because we all had that one thing in common, we all represented our state at that level which was pretty special and is the reason why Dermott became one of my favourite players.
What is your ultimate sporting goal and what is a life goal of yours?
Sport wise, I want to be the best I possibly can be. My goal in sport is to always do the absolute best that I can and enjoy every moment. My life goal is to just never give up and to just live life as you can. I was lucky to live through my accident and its special to us. We celebrate the anniversary of my accident each year, we call it ‘happy to be alive day’ because surviving my accident is something we cherish.
If you could say one thing to someone going through a similar journey to you, what would you say to them?
Try being as positive as you can. Think about the opportunities you have in life. Really just think of the positives in life because they are out there and reiterate them through everything you do.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
COVID-19 has been a bit of a challenge. Particularly for my three girls who all had to go through home schooling, the embraced it but it was quite challenging. My wife Belinda and I had to put our jobs in the background a bit in order to support the girls with their learning. I also changed jobs halfway through lockdown which was challenging starting a new role and learning new programs via zoom which was a big challenge. In saying that, I’ve got a great set up at home and enjoying my work. I feel sorry for my girls who missed out on a lot of the things they normally do over these last year or so. Looking forward to when we are 100 per cent open again.
What does it mean to be drafted to Hawthorn football clubs wheelchair team?
If I didn’t get drafted to Hawthorn I wouldn’t of played at all, so it means a lot.
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.