The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games recently wrapped up after 12 days of competition which was DSR’s most successful with 21 members and 8 medal winners participating across the 23 sports.
Arguably one of the most-watched versions in history, the course of the games saw athletes shatter records and earn their rightful place in the history books as Paralympians along with the defining moment Prime Minister Scott Morrison committed to ensuring financial equality between the value of the medal-winning bonuses distributed to Paralympians and their Olympic peers.
If you missed the action, we caught up with Paralympian, Australian Wheelchair Rugby team members, Andrew Harrison and Ben Fawcett for all the inside scoop and best moments from the 2020 Paralympic Games.
How did you prepare for Tokyo?
“Yeah. So preparing for Tokyo with the restrictions that Australia has had in place over the last few months has been pretty tough. You know, we haven't been able to have our team together for over 18 months. It was pretty tough that we couldn't all get together and really sort of hit the road with a lot of momentum.”
“When we all got together and we were able to really have a good hit out, we really enjoyed it. You know, it's tough when you're doing a lot of Zoom calls and, you know, spending a lot of time virtually talking to each other. But to physically get together and we could really focus on our game.”
What was the Paralympic Village like?
“Mingling with not only your own team, but with countries from all around the world. So, you know, when you go for a push around the village, you'll go past 15 countries. There's not many places anywhere where you can go past 15 countries within 10 metres.”
“And you know, the village is basically a world within a world basically. Because, you know, there's laundry, there's hairdressers, there's a post office, there's the whole lot and it's all in this little bubble. And to actually experience that is amazing.”
Tell us what your game preparation and recovery process is like?
“Yeah, yeah, that's probably the biggest mental drain is that, you know, from the minute you wake up, you've got to be switched on and you've got to be preparing for a game that might not be until the afternoon. So, you know, that's that can really take it out of you.”
“Yeah, so after a match, we go straight into recovery. We want to get our bodies in the best shape possible for the next game. So after a game, we'd be straight back into the rooms out of our chairs. Chuck on some compression to limit, you know, muscle movement and keep the lactic acid to a minimum. Get back to the village, jump in an ice bath. No one loves an ice bath, but you know, it's all about the recovery. And then depending on what time our game was, you know, the priorities, sleep and getting ready to do it all again the next day.”
What is something you have learned from other athletes that stays with you?
“So something I've learned from other athletes is: in our sport, things can go, you know, really good, but they can also turn around and go really bad. So to have the ability to be able to not focus on what has happened and to focus on what's going to happen is massive. I've been able to take that from other athletes within my team, but also other sports, you know, some things happen and you just need to put that behind you and move on and go from there.”
What do the Paralympics mean to you?
“Ok, so the Paralympic Movement for me is something that I have really close to my heart. You know, after having an accident in 2004, sport was what gave me the confidence and the ability to live my life with.”
From the whole Paralympics experience, what stood out the most?
“What I’ve taken from this whole experience is that - with all the pressure that Australia and our team have had with covert border restrictions - we are still as resilient and as keen to get out there and compete at our best and give it all for everyone that was in lockdown or people that, you know, really look up to us as athletes. We were able to go out there and just and give it our absolute all and make Australia proud."
If you could give one person considering wheelchair rugby some advice what would that be?
“Yeah, for those that want to give wheelchair rugby a go, I highly recommend it. It's a sport that changed my life. I've been doing it now for almost 17 years, so for me, it really gave me a sense of direction and something to look forward to every day. And even if you just play it locally, it's a sport that gives you mateship, gives you sort of some structure in your life. And it also gives you the ability to stay fit and active.”
What did your preparation ahead of the games look like?
“It wasn’t too bad. It was a little bit difficult at times a lot of our training camps got cancelled. There were so many events we had organized and were getting ready for. Due to covid it just got cancelled."
"I think we were all physically fit because we trained individually, but when it came to the team jelling we struggled a little bit there."
"It would’ve been nice to have a few more training camps together."
What did being able to get together as a team mean to you?
“It was great to have everyone finally together. I think it was the first time the team had been together in over a year when we got to Tokyo. We had a practice game and a couple of training sessions in the lead up to it. It was really nice to have everybody back together after such a long time."
With COVID restrictions, what was it like at the court? Were spectators allowed?
“Surprisingly there was a fair few people there, whether they were volunteers or, I’m not quite sure who was allowed in."
"It was really well prepared and set up. You come out of the tunnel where they introduce you and you wheel onto the court into this massive stadium. They were playing quite loud music too, so it still had a cool atmosphere. As soon as you start playing you forget all about that stuff and all the surroundings. But thinking back it was a pretty nice venue, probably one of the better ones I’ve played at."
What was your Paralympic Village experience like?
“The Paralympic village was amazing. Everybody from Paralympics Australia who put together, they have done an absolutely amazing job. Right through to just trying to make us feel at home. They put up posters and heaps of Australiana around the place. The food, the atmosphere. They had a place where you could watch all the people competing. Just to be around and soak it up, there was always something happening. It was quite a good vibe around the place."
What support did you have from back home while at the Games cheering you on?
“All sorts of things, like pictures of Australian landmarks and there was lots of schools who had put together posters for us. There was a big ‘Go Steelers’ poster as you come into the building that was put together by one of the primary schools."
"Heaps of people had written in like ‘best wishes’ and things like that just posted everywhere. Heaps of Lizzy the Mascot."
“It didn’t matter where you looked there was something up on the walls supporting us.”
“It’s always pretty cool when you see that schools have been studying us and writing letters. We do get a lot of fan mail. It just shows how important it is to Australia when we go away to compete. It definitely hits home when you see those messages."
How did you prepare for a match?
“It was pretty full-on, you know. While we were over there we were doing covid tests every morning. So we’d do that, spit in a cup and send it away so nobody had covid. Then we’d go get fueled up, have some breakfast. It depended if our game was in the morning or afternoon, we’d plan our meals around that. From there we’d go on to do our team meeting and discuss tactics with the coaching staff. That would take 15- 20 minutes. From there we’d get all packed up and jump on the bus and head over to the venue."
“There's not a lot of time to recover and move on from game to game when you’re playing one game a day. Everything happens quickly when you do pack up head to recovery and get best prepared for the next game. Once it starts, that’s it, it’s nonstop.”
“The trip goes very quick once those games start.”
What was recovery like?
"After a game, we would normally fit in with the physio where we would do some compression arms. Some of the guys would be doing ice baths. Then we’d be fitting in dinner or lunch after or around that. We would have a little bit of a debrief in the rooms after, however, the debrief didn’t last very long. We'd just touch base, see how we went and what could’ve been done better and what we want to do for the next game. There’s not a lot of turn around so we’d get started on the next game pretty quickly."
Any gameplay/tactics from the games you can share?
“It comes down to what the coach sees on the sidelines and whether he’s happy to stick to our tactics or whether he’s noticing something that needs to be adjusted."
What is something you have learned from other athletes at the games?
“There are so many senior players that I play with across the board that have been around for such a long time. All those guys bring a lot of wisdom and knowledge to the game. You’re sort of always picking up little bits of information. Quite often those conversations happen later on during lunch or dinner when you’re recapping the game. Talking about ‘do you remember seeing this’ or 'we can exploit this player this way’. It sort of comes a bit more organically, I think that’s when you really pick up some valuable information on the game.”
“We were keeping our distance from other teams at all times. You could definitely catch up with other Australian athletes.”
What was the most memorable part of the Paralympics for you?
"Mostly the Paralympic village, specifically the Australian building. Just when you are getting around other players, watching the TVs with other people competing and just how much compassion there is for sports. That’s such an exciting thing about the Paralympics and it makes you want to go to these major events."
If you could give one person considering wheelchair rugby some advice, what would that be?
“Hopefully we can get some new players. Hopefully, somebody’s been watching us while we were over there and getting excited to come down and learn the sport.”
“Get in contact through DSR. I think if you just give DSR a call, organise a time to come down regardless of your disability. You’re not going to know until you come down to check it out. Even if it’s just to watch for the first time. If you’re able to come down and jump in a chair that’s awesome. Get involved and get out there. We are always trying to welcome new players. Don’t hesitate, I think that’s one thing that a lot of people regret, you know. Like, putting off playing sport for such a long time and then when they do finally get in a chair they wished they’d done it sooner. So come on down, that’s all I can say."
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