One of last night’s Australian flag bearers at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Ryley Batt, is lauded as one of the best wheelchair rugby players in the world — but for the first 12 or so years of his life he avoided using a wheelchair.
- The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is Riley Batt’s fifth Games appearance
- He was introduced to wheelchair rugby while at primary school in Port Macquarie
- His whole team is hoping to come away with a third straight gold medal
That all changed when he had an opportunity to play wheelchair rugby, which was originally called “murderball” due to its aggressive, full-contact nature.
His introduction to the sport was while at St Agnes Primary in Port Macquarie.
“A local legend, paralympian Tom Kennedy, ran a wheelchair rugby program at the local PCYC,” Batt said.
“All my able-bodied friends jumped in the wheelchairs and started bashing into each other but I was a bit embarrassed to jump in a wheelchair — at the time I was using a skateboard to get around.
From that moment, he said, things “blossomed” into an almost 20-year career in the sport.
“I was invited to some training sessions locally and then made the New South Wales side and, eventually, was asked to go to the Australian selection camp and made the Australian side,” he said.
“My first Paralympic Games was Athens in 2004 as a 15-year-old.”
Level playing field
Batt loved sport as a youngster but often felt left behind when he could not keep up with his friends.
“But once I found wheelchair rugby, I felt like — for once in my life — I was on the same level playing field as everyone else,” he said.
Batt said playing wheelchair rugby helped him make the transition away from the skateboard that he had been using to get around.
“Once I got stuck into wheelchair rugby, I then accepted my disability and jumped into what we call an everyday chair and got off that skateboard.
“It was very hard to overcome, but it was one thing in life that I’m very, very glad I did overcome.”
Games like no other
As well as co-captaining the Paralympic squad with para-table tennis star Danni Di Toro, Batt is the captain of the Steelers wheelchair rugby team.
He said he was “absolutely pumped” to compete with his teammates, who have not been able to train together since March last year.
“It’s been 18 months now since we played our last international game and I just can’t wait to get out there and represent Australia again,” Batt said.
He and the rest of the team have spent the past five days in training ahead of their first game against Denmark this afternoon, which will be very different to any that he has played before, given there will be no crowd.
“Unfortunately, we’re not going to have crowds, so we’re not going to feed on that energy,” he said.
“At the end of the day it’s just white noise for you anyway, so I’m looking forward to hearing my teammates and my coaches for the first time ever in a major competition because usually you can’t hear [anything] a metre in front of you.”
Batt said his team was hoping to come away with a third straight gold medal.
“We don’t really want anything less you know. We’ve tasted that gold medal success now twice and we definitely want to do that a third time,” Batt said.