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.
NZ Rugby Foundation
Sport Auckland House Level 4, Alexandra Park Function Centre, Gate B, Greenlane Road West, Epsom, Auckland