Written by Jim Roberts
Edited by Andrew Thomson
It had been a busy few months since the development tournament. The GB Elite Team had got together for the first time since London 2012 Paralympic Games. Lots had changed, there was a new management and coaching team in place and a number of development players had been brought in to the elite squad.
The team still had an experienced group of athletes with Paralympic experience at its core but there was a real buzz of excitement about the potential of the new players joining the squad.
In my case, initially, I felt completely out of my depth. It was enormously exciting to be given the chance to compete at a world level so early in my career but the learning curve was a steep one.
My first tournament was a huge shock to the system. It was a world ranking test event in Denmark for the upcoming world championship and the top 8 teams in the world were there to compete.
The most nerve racking part of the tournament for me was something called classification. In Paralympic sport athletes are classed depending on their function. In wheelchair rugby we have 7 separate classifications 0.5 (least functional) up to 3.5 (most functional) and teams can only play a maximum of 8 points on court at any one time.
During this tournament we had five athletes that were up for their first classification. We had all been classified domestically, but the anxiety levels step up when it is an international classification. The result of classification can have a massive impact on an athlete’s career, the margins to be classed in or out of a particular classification or an entire sport can be so small.
This was certainly the case with Luke White, he had been made ineligible to play wheelchair rugby after classification. Obviously, it was a heavy blow for him, but also for our team. Being a 3.5 he was a key playmaker on our team and at that stage he was getting a lot of court time.
This was my first classification and, although I am classed as a 3.0 now, after this tournament I had risen from a 3.0 to a 3.5. I was brought back down to a 3.0 at my next classification but there was a period of time where I had to question my future within the sport. I talked to Luke at length about it on the way home and he was obviously gutted. He had seen his dream, something he had worked so hard towards for so long, get taken away from him in the space of a day. I really felt for him and this made me even more determined to make the most of the opportunity I had been given.
This tournament was one of those times where being in a team sport is an amazing experience. In the face of adversity the team pulled together and we were able to encourage each other and lift our morale. It is definitely one of the reasons why time and time again I am thankful to be part of a great team.
(For more information on classification please see the IWRF website: http://www.iwrf.com/?page=classification)