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Aussie wheelchair rugby side aiming for third-straight Paralympic gold


Australia’s wheelchair rugby team will be going for a third-straight gold medal at next week’s Tokyo Paralympic Games, and captain Ryley Batt is confident despite a tough draw.

The top-seeded Aussie side - nicknamed the Steelers - will face Denmark and France in their pool matches, as well as reigning world champions Japan.

“We've got an absolute mammoth of work in front of us but we're up to the challenge,” Batt told SEN’s Mornings with Matt White.

“Two weeks of hard work and dedication and sacrifice after the last five years of work we've done is nothing. We're ready to put it all on the table.

“Denmark's going to be a tough game but I think we've got a very good draw with them being first up. They're probably the lowest-ranked team in our pool. France in the next game is a bit of a dark horse, but if we play well we should get the job done. And then an absolute war against Japan.

“We've had quite the rivalry over the last few years. We've got the upper hand on them with win/loss ratio but who knows how they've been going through lockdown.”

Batt, 32, made his Paralympic debut in Athens in 2004 as a 15-year-old. He was the youngest ever wheelchair rugby Paralympian.

Now, on top of his Steelers captaincy, the two-time gold medalist has also been named the co-captain of the Australian Paralympic Team with six-time Paralympian Danni Di Toro (para-table tennis).

“It’s something I'm truly honoured and very proud of,” Batt said.

“It's a hard one to get words to. I'm very happy and proud to be looked upon by my Australian Paralympic peers as a leader alongside Danni.”

Batt said he is “still pinching himself” that he is on the way to his fifth Paralympic Games.

He was born without legs and most of his fingers, and spent his childhood using a skateboard rather than a wheelchair to get around.

“When I was a young kid, I considered myself a normal boy and did everything my friends were doing - motorbike racing, water skiing, whatever they were doing, I was doing with them,” he said.

“My parents forced me to push my boundaries and didn't wrap me in cotton wool which I was really happy with growing up.”

After struggling with his sense of self through his teenage years, Batt said he is now more confident than ever.

"Looking back on it, if I had legs, I wouldn't have gotten to experience what I have today. I wouldn't be able to co-captain the Paralympic team and captain the Steelers.

“If you could somehow give me legs there's no way I'd take them. I'm more than happy in my body these days."

Aside from the chance to win a third gold medal, the Steelers’ side in Tokyo will be remembered for having a woman as part of the team for the first time.

“Wheelchair rugby is a mixed sport but it's been dominated by males since I've been a part of it,” Batt said.

“Disability sports have classifications because every person's got a different level of disability, so what they've done is reduced the classification of any female player so it makes it more beneficial for them to be on your team and tries to include them.

“I think it's amazing. Shae Graham - the first-ever female wheelchair rugby Paralympian for Australia. And she just fits in so bloody well.”

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