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 have always loved sport and footy. I am a mad Hawthorn supporter and have been watching the Hawks play big games at the ‘G for as long as I can remember. I have worked as a Site Manager at Monash Uni for the last 14 years. I manage all of the sporting facilities at the Caulfield campus.

I am married with two dogs, no kids, and I do a lot of hand cycling in my spare time to keep fit and active.  

So, you play wheelchair AFL. What made you pursue AFL and how did you get involved? 

I got involved a bit by accident. I was in Sri Lanka on a Cycle Power trip two years ago (Cycle power is a group for disabled riders who go to different areas around the world and do charity rides). One of the guys I went with was the CEO of Disability Sport and Recreation, he mentioned there was a wheelchair football league starting up and asked if I would be interested and I told him to keep me in the loop. I had never played the game and did not know what teams were involved. I got a call a few weeks later to say that I had been drafted to Hawthorn!

Can you briefly explain how wheelchair AFL is played, and what it means for you to play?

Wheelchair Football is played on a netball/basketball court. There are five players on the court in each team, two defenders, one centre and two forwards. The forwards and defenders can only go in their zone or the middle zone and the centre can go anywhere but cannot score, only the forwards can score. A handball in wheelchair football is counted as a kick and an underarm throw is a handball. We play four 10-minute quarters.

What it means to me is that I get to play for the Hawks! It would have been very hard to wear another team’s colours. That is what means the most to me.

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 two artificial legs. Both my legs were amputated, when I was nine due to a birth condition. Both legs were not going to grow, or develop, as they should so that decision was made for the betterment of my life. Not being able to play normal sport, when I was younger I started wheelchair sports and I tried my hand at a few different ones but stopped playing most of them as I got older.  When wheelchair football came about, I saw it as a great opportunity to try something different and get back into team sports as I’d mostly been participating in individual sports.

Wheelchair AFL looks very enjoyable and fast-paced. What do you love most about the sport?

Getting the opportunity to be a part of the Hawks, and to be considered a Hawthorn player, is amazing. I have been here since the start of the league, so being a part of something new and watching it grow has been great, and I hope to be a part of the club for as long as I can, maybe even have a bit of input into Dingley in the future.

Have you played any other sports? What level?

I have played a few sports; I played a fair bit of Wheelchair basketball back in the day. I went to the Seoul Paralympics in 1988 to play table tennis. I stopped playing sports for years, so when footy came along I saw it as a great opportunity to get back into sport.

Do you have any heroes or people you aspired to be like?

I wear number 23. There has been a whole myriad of stars at Hawthorn, who also wore that number like Buddy Franklin, Dermott Brereton, and Don Scott. Even globally, there’s Shane Warne, Michael Jordan and David Beckham. All have done remarkable things in their sports, so I see them all as role models. 

You have already achieved so much but what is your ultimate sporting goal and what is a life goal of yours?

I would love to be captain of the Hawthorn wheelchair team at some stage and to captain the side as a premiership-winning Hawks team would be awesome. A few of the other things on the bucket list are, to get to Old Trafford and watch Manchester United play against Manchester City, I also wouldn’t mind heading over to Lords and watching the Ashes one day as well.

If you could encourage someone to try your sport what would you say to them?

I would definitely say, give it a go. It’s not a game for the faint-hearted. There will be opportunities via feeder leagues to give everyone the opportunity to play and learn the game. It is great to see Hawthorn add so much youth to the team this year and give opportunities to a lot of younger players.

What did it mean to you to be drafted to Hawthorn Football Club’s wheelchair team?

It was a really pleasant surprise. It will be something that I always remember, the phone call, then coming down to Waverley Park to receive my jumper. Harry Morrison gave me my first jumper. It is just great to be recognised and accepted as a genuine part of the Hawthorn family.

You have been a part of Hawthorn's wheelchair team since the league’s inception. What are some of the things you are looking forward to, going into this year?

To be honest, just getting out there playing would be great with everything going on this year. There’s a lot of new and young players on the team so getting to know all the new players better and hopefully getting back into some footy soon. In the long run, I am looking forward to staying at Hawthorn and being a part of it for as long as I can.  

It’s been really good. I have always known what Hawthorn is like, and the club has been so welcoming and accepting and has made a real effort to involve us fully in the culture of the club, which is great!

All interviews in the Getting to know series are hosted by Hawthorn’s AFL Blind Vice Captain Ned Brewer-Maiga.

Find out more about Hawthorn’s Social Inclusion Partner, Afford, by heading to their website.