Adaptive Sports leading the way

Time to read: 5 minutes

This story was first published in MHPE magazine volume 16 issue 2.

Being physically active is important for both our physical and mental health. Being active holds different meanings for different people. For Jeff Wright it means competing with team mates in a number of adaptive sports.

Townsville is currently leading the way in adaptive sports at a local level with a Friday night local wheelchair basketball league. This league consists of members from veteran groups, defence and civil community groups. This league offers participants an avenue to be physically active and connect socially in a fun and safe environment. It also offers an athletic stepping stone for competing at higher level such as representing at a regional, state and national level.

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Interview – 10 questions with Jeff Wright

Jeff served in the Army for 20 years and the Police Force for 5 years. Jeff was severely injured in a high speed motorcycle accident in 2015 resulting in spinal, head and facial injuries as well as a broken elbow and ribs. In April 2016, after discussions from the specialist and physios to participate in adaptive sports he decided to give it a go at a Thursday night ‘come and try’ wheelchair basketball game, where he has never looked back.

1. What attracted you to compete in adaptive sports?

I have always had a sporting background growing up with playing touch football and basketball. My days would start with a jog up Castle Hill (Townsville Iconic Landmark). After my accident I was 8 months post injury, attending rehab every day and had been in my wheelchair for 6 months. I decided I needed motivation to get out and do things on my own. I surrounded myself with the right people in terms of physios, doctors and specialists. I told them to ‘challenge me, because I was sure going to challenge them’. That’s where the adaptive sports came in. Since my first game in April 2016 I have been hooked ever since. I have been very fortunate to have the support of a solid team including family and friends who have supported my athletic journey from the start.

2. What athletic level have you reached competing in adaptive sports?

I have competed in wheelchair basketball at a local level in Townsville at Mates 4 Mates and through the Townsville local league competition held every Friday night. From there I represented Townsville at a regional level where I competed against Cairns, Rockhampton and Mackay again in wheelchair basketball. I then went further to captain Queensland in the State of Origin Series in 2017 in wheelchair rugby league which then lead me to where I am now which is representing Australia in the September Invictus Games in multiple sports including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball and swimming.

3. Tell us a bit about your training regime.

At present, I train 6 times a week, totalling about 10 hours a week. Consisting of a combination of skills, conditioning and competitions. I focus my training on a particular sport depending on the upcoming events.

4. Why do you think it is so important for veterans to be physically active?

It keeps your mind active, gives you power to make better choices for the day and works on stopping inner voice insecurities. You need to take time for yourself and be socially connected to other people such as team mates.

5. What advice do you have for someone who wants to start being involved with adaptive sports?

Just try it, because it can change your life. I believe it brings people out of the dark and back into the light. It’s not about winning medals or representing Australia. It’s about getting involved, having fun, making commitments and meeting other people with similar interests.

6. Do you have a favourite adaptive sport? If so why?

I would have to say wheelchair basketball. I think wheelchair basketball requires more skills and is most challenging. I also find there is a lot more opportunity for further development in this sport due to the higher number of tournaments and competitions.

7. Why do you think it is so important to have adaptive sports available for participants at a local level?

It’s an opportunity for more people to be involved and allows for positive social connections and networking that goes beyond sports. The cost to compete at representative level can be quite expensive so not everyone can afford to participate. Local level is a cost effective way to be involved and have fun.

8. Do you think the awareness and participation around adaptive sports is increasing?

Yes definitely, especially in Townsville. The media has such positive good news stories to promote adaptive sports locally, it’s great exposure for the sport. It really focuses people’s attention on the athlete and the sport rather than the disability which I think is a highlight. We tend to appreciate and celebrate the skills of that athlete which is how it should be.

9. What positive outcomes have you benefited from by being more physically active?

Lots of benefits, including health, good mindset, exposure to the community and supports people dealing with their own problems. It really keeps your mind clear from a dark situation.

10. Lastly, I have to ask, what was it like meeting Prince Harry?

(Laughs) Excellent. He is a really nice fella. We had a bit of a joke and laugh. I did tell him that Australia was coming to take the gold medal from them in wheelchair basketball, which he replied that he would let the team know!

Carly Newton, DVA Community Support Adviser and Jeff Wright.