As one of the biggest crowd-pullers at the Invictus Games, wheelchair rugby will provide a unique opportunity for people to celebrate and honour ill, wounded and injured servicemen and women and a Navy Warrant Officer is one of the driving forces behind the Australian team.
In an uncompromising display that involves collisions between wheelchairs in a game of invasion and evasion, it’s one of few sports where a welder stands by, ready to reassemble the Mad Max-style wheelchairs that provide a second skin for the athletes battling it out on the court.
Proud to be part of the Australian team travelling to Canada, Warrant Officer Andrew Bertoncin said that he was approached by a friend to coach the wheelchair rugby team due to his rugby and cricket coaching abilities.
“It’s awesome to be involved in a program which is not only dedicated to the recovery and rehabilitation of current and serving members but also gives them a competition worthy of their service to the country,” Warrant Officer Bertoncin said.
“When you hear their stories and how they have used adaptive sports in their recovery you really know why it’s important.
“Even in my short time with the athletes I amazed in the growth of individuals within the team who have really appreciated the atmosphere of the team environment,” he said.
The coach said that he fast-tracked his specific knowledge of the Paralympic sport by hopping into a wheelchair to experience the combined elements of rugby, basketball and handball.
“The Western Australian side were awesome and let me participate in some of their training nights - there is nothing like actually playing the game to understand it,” he said.
“I have done now three training camps with the athletes which have also included games against the New South Wales side who were awesome in sharing their skills.”
Warrant Officer Bertoncin admits that his Navy role helped his coaching and leadership of the team sport and believes the Australian team have a real chance in the games in Toronto.
“The important thing is to set up the environment where all team members not only want to contribute but will have the hunger to do the five percent more than the opposing player to win,” Warrant Officer Bertoncin said.
“You have to set up an environment first where players love their team, respect each other and as a team set their goals.
“All my athletes are really focused and have been spending a lot of time in their chairs preparing for this event.
“The United States will be the team to beat, but on the way to playing them we have to see off a few other strong countries,” he said.
Through sport, the ‘unconquered’ spirit of servicemen and women is on display, as they show how far they have come in their recovery or their resilience through illness.
Both current and ex-serving personnel can nominate as athletes and coaches for the 2018 Invictus Games team. The games are in Sydney in October next year.
Info and application forms can be found at http://www.defence.gov.au/Events/InvictusGames/
Follow the 2017 team as they rise to the challenges at Toronto at www.facebook.com/team.invictus.australia or www.twitter.com/aussieinvictus