The challenges of getting wheelchair rugby teams to and from their competitions requires precision planning. Each player travels with their day chair and a host of other specialised equipment including their rugby wheelchairs, large bags containing spare chair wheels, regular luggage and support equipment, such as shower chairs.
For any of us, life could take an unexpected twist in a split second - changing our lives forever. No group of people understand this more profoundly than the team at Disability Sports Australia (DSA) and the athletes they support. With the motto ‘changing lives through sport’, DSA is committed to engaging people of all abilities across Australia to help them achieve and grow.
From the grass roots level, right though to national level and elite representation, DSA is the major force driving inclusion in a wide range of sports including - wheelchair rugby, wheelchair aussie rules, wheelchair basketball and lawn bowls, as well as partnering with other organisations to promote sport opportunities such as adaptive surfing, wheelchair tennis, archery, paratriathlon and many more.
Australia's Wheelchair Rugby team wINS gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games
They are also the first country to win back to back wheelchair rugby Paralympic titles and a world championship in a four-year stretch.
Played by people with quadriplegia, or multiple amputations, there is no able bodied sport that comes close to the aggressive, full contact and fast paced nature of wheelchair rugby. It is easy to see why the sport was originally called ‘Murderball’, due to the fact that collisions between wheelchairs are not only allowed – but encouraged!
Since managing the travel for DSA from early 2016, Stage and Screen has their travel routine down pat. With luggage being one of the key challenges, we've developed a strong relationship with Qantas when flying the rugby wheelchair athletes. Allowing the athletes to easily take their chairs on board each flight is of paramount importance. Before every flight each wheelchair and its dimensions, are registered with Qantas, and airline briefs are completed, itemising all luggage.
Domestically Stage and Screen organises travel for the five teams involved in the Fierce4 Rugby National Championships, which is played in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Players from each state travel to the games, with teams of around twelve people including the players, coaches and support staff. International travel for the team, including a trip to Indonesia earlier this year, gets a bit more complicated with every leg of the journey requiring a high degree of logistical planning. A situation not helped when a volcano decides to flex its muscles and the entire team, with all it’s special travel requirements, needs to be rebooked on a different flight!
5 minutes with Australian wheelchair rugby player Andrew Edmondson
How did you come to play wheelchair rugby?
I was introduced to Wheelchair Rugby during my rehab at Prince of Wales Hospital following an accident which left me a quadriplegic. My first experience playing was a few months after my accident at a ‘come and try’ wheelchair sports expo.
How long have you been playing?
I began playing socially in 2005, then representative level for NSW in 2006, and I’ve been part of the team ever since. I then began playing for the Steelers internationally in 2013.
What were the highlights of playing in the Rio Paralympics?
Winning gold in the final moments of the match was a massive highlight. However I think the biggest thrill was knowing I had become a Paralympian and I’d represented my country at the highest level for my sport.
What did the gold medal win mean to you?
Winning a gold medal is by far the highlight of my sporting career and it really is a token of the hard work and dedication that was put in - not only myself, but by all of my team mates. It represents the sacrifices you have made in the years – and it motivates me to want to train even harder to be back on the team in Tokyo 2020 to defend our title.
How do you wind down after such an aggressive game?
Because our sport is so physically demanding we are required to go through specific post match routines, but I enjoy talking about the game with my team mates and reflecting on things that happened – both good and bad. And if possible after a major tournament, there is nothing better to wind down with than a beer....or four!
Photo credit: Serena Ovens