COVID lockdowns bring Paralympians to Darwin ahead of Games

Rollers captain Shaun Norris says the team always expected a few COVID-19 “curveballs” to be thrown their way ahead of the Paralympic Games, but lockdowns on the east coast have really tested their resolve. 

“What I’ve learned is you’ve got to stop thinking about it because if you start to have those doubts, then it affects your training regimen, your day-to-day life,” Norris said. 

“So, at the moment, I just try not to think about it, just take it a day at a time and attack training every day.”

Rollers captain Shaun Norris (right) says the team is taking it “a day at a time” ahead of the 2021 Games.(

ABC News: Nicholas Hynes


The first charter plane carrying hundreds of Australian athletes has already touched down in Tokyo, but Australia’s Paralympic athletes are staying on home soil for another month.

They will be able to watch the Games, and any COVID-19 outbreaks or protocol breaches, unfold from Australia.

The Rollers’ Tom O’Neill-Thorne said it was the perfect chance for 18 months of preparations and precautions to be put to the test.

“We were staying at the same place as the Hockeyroos and the Kookaburras and we were joking with them that maybe the Olympics is a kind of pre-tournament — the tester that makes sure all the COVID protocols and the fans are all sorted for the time the Paralympics rolls in,” O’Neill-Thorne said.

Domestic COVID-19 outbreaks change plans

Several players from the Rollers and the Gliders made a last-minute decision to rush to Darwin last week to avoid the risk of getting caught up in lockdowns as COVID-19 spread in Sydney and Melbourne.

They are calling it the “great escape”.

“Things started to just go out of control, I guess, within 24 hours of that,” Rollers player CJ McCarthy-Grogan said.

Two young men wearing green and gold uniforms play wheelchair basketball.
Darwin locals CJ McCarthy-Grogan (left) and Tom O’Neill-Thorne are representing Australia in wheelchair basketball.(

ABC News: Nicholas Hynes


But Rollers captain Norris was not letting it affect the team’s preparations.

“It’s tested our resolve,” he said. 

“We sort of knew that there was going to be some curveballs along the way, but things have obviously really taken off in the last few weeks.”

Gliders player Hannah Dodd said the “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” week was all part of this year’s Games.

“It’s just kind of the reality that we live in at the moment where we have to work around border restrictions,” she said.

“We have to work around how we can get together as a team.

“With no supporters, no fans, no anything, we have to rely pretty heavily on our staff and on our teammates, and I think that’s kind of brought us together closer as a group as well.”

A young man in a wheelchair wearing green and gold plays basketball.
Michael Auprince is training in Darwin ahead of the Paralympic Games.(

ABC News: Nicholas Hynes


A homecoming for two Territory boys

For Darwin locals O’Neill-Thorne and McCarthy-Grogan, coming home was something of a holiday before the Games.

“Honestly, switching from Canberra to Darwin’s been the best,” O’Neill-Thorne said.

“I think the second everyone got off the plane, it just seemed to be like a big release.

“I already feel better physically and mentally, and you could say the same for the team. Everyone seems pretty happy to be up here, pretty relaxed.”

A young man holds a ball and smiles. He is in a wheelchair.
Darwin local Tom O’Neill-Thorne will represent Australia in wheelchair basketball in the Paralympic Games.(

ABC News: Nicholas Hynes


McCarthy-Grogan said it was not just a chance to see friends and family, but also to experience the local wheelchair basketball community, which has grown significantly since he was a child.

“For me, unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right time when I was a kid,” he said. 

“That wasn’t going to happen.

“But now Tom and I are in a in a pretty fortunate position that we’re able to come back and help give back to the community as much as we can.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to know personally who the guys are on TV when they when they watch the Paralympic Games.”

A young girl in a wheelchair smiles at the camera.
Ella Sabljak says the Gliders team is ready to “hit the world stage”.(

ABC News: Hamish Harty


If everything goes to plan, the basketballers will stay in Darwin for another couple of weeks before heading to Cairns and then Tokyo.

Gliders play Ella Sabljak said, whatever happened, this year’s Games would be a “tournament of change”.

“This isn’t going to be a Games like anyone else has seen before, so I think going over there we’re just going to soak it all in,” she said.

“We’re really ready to hit the world stage again. It’s been a long time.”

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