COACH OF THE WHEEL BLACKS
My accident happened at school in 1977. I was 15½ and it was an inter-house game, not even an inter-school game - some of those games were fiercer than the inter-school games. It was just one of those moments in time when I lost my cool. I knew my abilities, I knew I wasn't a Sean Fitzpatrick, but it was the first time I'd played on the number one ground, so it had a lot of significance to it. I was moving up the ranks. I was picked not because of the numbers but because they wanted me as a player. I felt I was in a good team but we weren't winning the game when we should have been. I guess we were all a bit fired up.
The accident happened in a ruck which had formed in the front of our goal posts. They had a very good half-back first-five combination and I knew that if they got the ball out they'd score. I don't know what I expected to do but I thought I saw the ball and I just charged in and somehow I think I got my neck between two people and whacked it forward. One way or the other it was broken and that was it. The next thing I was lying in the mud and everyone was running away. I couldn't move, I couldn't hear, I couldn't feel, I was very scared.
It wasn't until about 1990 when a couple of guys - Rob Dickie and Kevin Griffiths - bought this game called Murder Ball to New Zealand. I was in my day chair - we didn't have rugby chairs in those days - and I looked at it and thought, ‘I could have a go at this.’ I was out on the court for about two minutes and when I came off my heart was racing and messages were coming up to my brain going 'What the hell are you doing man, you're not built for this'. I was overweight but I was hooked - it was the team game thing. You couldn't win without your team mates and it was a lot of fun. There was a bit of physical contact - there were very few rules back in those days - ‘don't lose’ was the only rule I can remember but I wasn't too clear on how you did win, it was just free form.
Since then I have had a very rewarding and colourful wheelchair rugby career that includes the following:
- Competed in the first New Zealand team at the Inaugural Australian Nationals in 1991 (Bronze)
- Selected into Wheel Blacks when the team was formed in 1993.
- Played first official test, New Zealand versus Australia 1995. (won 36-30)
- Member of the Wheel Blacks team that went to the World Championships in Switzerland in 1995. (Bronze medal)
- Captain of the Wheel Blacks during the Test Series in Australia in 1996. (won 3-2)
- Captain of the Wheel Blacks to the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996. (Bronze medal)
- Captain of the Wheel Blacks to the World Championships in Toronto 1998. (Silver medal)
- Named as best 1.0 point player of the tournament and all star team.
- Captain of the Wheel Blacks to the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. (Bronze medal)
- Appointed Wheel Black Coach for Athens 2004 Paralympics. (Gold medal)
- Reappointed Wheel Black Coach for the World Championships in Christchurch 2006. (Silver medal)
- Reappointed Wheel Black Coach for Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
While I didn’t have a chance to play club rugby, my involvement with the Rugby Foundation has made me feel part of the rugby fraternity. The Foundation has assisted me personally and has played a role supporting wheelchair rugby in New Zealand and the Wheel Blacks. They sponsor our domestic competition and have supplied rugby chairs for a number of injured rugby players wanting to play wheelchair rugby.