It was a big bash of a different kind as the sound of custom-made wheelchairs colliding at speed echoed in HMAS Canberra’s hangar deck this week.
In support of Navy's Fleet charity, Disability Sports Australia and Wheelchair Rugby, HMAS Canberra provided a unique venue for a celebration of the first quarter century of national wheelchair rugby competition in Australia. On a specially installed wooden playing surface, wheelchair rugby players, including several Paralympians, demonstrated their skills by playing a no holds barred game in front of a raucous crowd.
It was a spectacle to remember for the almost 300 invited guests who represented the elite in sport, business and community.
Parliamentarians, industry heavyweights, sponsors and the disabled athletic community were initially treated to a taste of Navy with guided tours of the ship before witnessing a sunset ceremony. After a welcome from HMAS Canberra Commanding Officer, Captain Chris Smith, and the obligatory brief speeches, it was down to the other reason people were excited to visit Navy’s largest ship.
For those who had never witnessed wheelchair rugby, it was an exciting introduction to a sport played by competitors who literally throw themselves into the game. The main demonstration game was staged between the GIO NSW Gladiators and a Legends team comprised of players from around Australia. Several Paralympians took part, including Ryley Batt, Chris Bond, Nazim Erdem and Jason Lees.
Three time Paralympian, Ryley Batt, echoed the sentiments of the elite players when he said it had been a night to remember for the entire wheelchair rugby community.
“I’d really like the Australian public to check out a game of wheelchair rugby, I’m sure they’d love it -we do, we love the physicality and the hits and the camaraderie," he said.
“It’s not very often you get to play on a Navy ship, let alone the largest ship in the fleet.
“It’s been an amazing experience and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Former field rugby union international and Wallaby, Nathan Sharpe, Welsh rugby international Ben Evans, sponsors and Navy personnel, including Captain Smith and Director General Navy Health, Commodore Liz Rushbrook, took to the wheelchairs for the celebrity game and promptly discovered wheelchair rugby is not for the faint hearted.
“It’s much harder than it looks,” said principal sponsor, GIO’s Matt Kayrooz, also who took part.
“The boys are fantastic, they’re role models. People who have pretty bad accidents can see that it’s still possible to play for their state, even their country…these boys are good.”
“It’s fitting to see rugby, whether it’s played on a field or from a wheelchair, to be one of Australia’s premier sports,” Mr Kayrooz said.
Video available: http://video.defence.gov.au/play/ZmaHFndjoNy2tW-UK7YmbewOJTPHSJQF#