Port Macquarie local, Ryley Batt, is aiming for his third consecutive Paralympic Games in the sport of Wheelchair Rugby, at the tender age of twenty-two.
Ryley will share his journey and life story at the Hastings Business Enterprise Network breakfast at Rydges on 19 January. We take a moment to catch up with Ryley, in what will be one of the most focused and critical ‘Olympic’ years of his career.
Ryley and the Australian Team, the Steelers, weren’t content with a silver medal at Beijing and are aiming for gold in London 2012.
You rode a skateboard to get around town until the age of 12 and hadn’t known much about the sport of wheelchair rugby, let alone the mechanics of competing in a chair. A year later at 13, you were competing for Australia, as one of their main ‘go-to’ men, a try scoring machine and emerging MVP. What was the catalyst for the sudden and radical change in your life?
I used to see people in wheelchairs as ‘disabled’ and had always thought that I was just a normal boy living a normal life. The skateboard was a great mode of transport when I was young, because I could fit in with my mates and have fun. The sport of Wheelchair Rugby originally sounded stupid to me. I couldn’t picture guys in wheelchairs pushing around on a massive grass football field. How hard would that be!
I went along to the local PCYC for school sport in Grade 6, where the local former Paralympian, Tom Kennedy, was holding a Wheelchair Rugby game, where all the students could jump in the chairs and have fun. It was then that I realised what the sport of Wheelchair Rugby was and how much fun it could be. It took me a week or two after that to jump in the wheelchair but since that time, I’ve never looked back.
Tell us how the game is played, how many players are on the team and your position on the court.
First thing people think of when they hear of Wheelchair Rugby is, “How do they do a line out? How do they pack scrums?”
You can’t picture it as Rugby League or Rugby Union. It’s totally different. The custom wheelchairs are something you would see out of Mad Max, and they take a lot of punishment on the court. I would describe it as a mixture of ice hockey and basketball, with its own little twist. The game consists of four, eight minute quarters, and the total game time usually ends up going for about 80 – 90 minutes with time outs during the game.
It’s a very strategic game played on a regulation sized basketball court. We have four players from each team on the court at any one time, with usually between six to eight substitutions. There are two cones you must pass through at each end of the court, and a goal (try) is worth 1 point.
All disability sports have classifications. In Wheelchair Rugby we have to make up to 8.0 points on the court at one time. We have classifications from 0.5, being the less able, to 3.5, being the most able. Our best line up is 3.5, 2.0, 2.0, 0.5, equalling a total of 8.0 points on the court.
You play for the Australian Team the Steelers. Do you play for other teams too?
I have played for the NSW Gladiators since 2002. We have won eight National Titles since I have been a part of the team. In 2011 we won our sixth straight Title, with me winning MVP (of the season) for the last five. I have also recently played two seasons in America for the San Diego Sharp. Both seasons we went through undefeated and won the Division 1 Title. I also received MVP for both of those seasons. Playing both stints in America changed my game and made me a more confident player.
Clearly you’ve won multiple MVP (most valuable player) awards for games and overall tournaments, but do you have any favourite achievements in the sport?
It is a team sport, and I only like to celebrate with a team, so winning silver at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics has been by far my favourite sporting achievement. On a personal note, winning the MVP at the 2010 World Championships in Vancouver, Canada has been my highest achievement. You cannot win a higher award on a personal level.
As an elite athlete, surely the training has to be rigorous, scientific and extremely consistent. What would be a typical ‘training day’ in the life of Ryley leading up to London?
I haven’t seen our training program for 2012 just yet. I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly intense, and I’m certainly going to make sure I do everything I’m asked to do. I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get that gold in London. I’m actually psyched to see the level of training we will have to do.
The hardest aspect of training in Port Macquarie is waking up every day finding the motivation to go train by yourself, but I’m sure the thought of a third Paralympic Games and a gold medal will motivate me to train harder than ever.
Surely, competing at the highest level takes total dedication and some support from others to ensure you can focus on your goals, so you don’t have to split your time between working and competing. Who are some of the key supporters helping you achieve your dream of one day taking gold at the Olympic level?
Port Macquarie is such a great town to be an athlete. Everyone is so supportive and tells you how much they love watching you or watching the sport. I do have to thank Gavin and the supportive team at Life Express and Clayton from the Port Macquarie Basketball Stadium, who have been with me for a couple of years and have helped me become the athlete I am today. The Australian Paralympic Committee does a fantastic job in paying for all our Australian Team travelling, and the Australian Sports Commission help us out with financial grants from time to time. The grants aren’t equivalent to an average full-time job – they are awarded to pay for equipment and some local training and travelling costs.
Keeping in mind that you’ll obviously be competing in the sport for some time to come, do you have a particular career in mind for when you decide to give the sport away – and what steps are you taking now to pave that pathway?
I have a few things flying around in my head for my career after Wheelchair Rugby. Recently I gained experience and completed a training course in Business Administration with Digital Signs & Printing. When I finished that course in early 2011, the timing was such that I decided to concentrate on my training up until the London Paralympics.
After London I would like to find another job in the Port Macquarie area and maybe another traineeship in management or something similar. In the future I’m going to work on my motivational speaking skills and maybe tryto start a small business somewhere in the Hastings.
If you would like to hear the full interview ‘live’ with Ryley, the HBEN breakfast at Rydges on 19 January is the place to be. Seats are limited and will book out fast. Simply log on to www.hastingsben.com.au and select the local business calendar and follow the prompts, or call Liesa or Katherine on (02) 6583 4412.