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As the AFL continues to expand its horizons, Wheelchair Aussie Rules is pushing its own boundaries

Email Wheelchair Aussie Rules in the spotlight as veterans turn to sport for rehabilitation By Neil Cross and Camron Slessor

Posted April 12, 2019 14:14:21

A man wearing a football guernsey sits in a wheelchair Photo: Mark Daniels turned to the sport to help heal from multiple injuries. (ABC News) Related Story: Tasmania hopeful of forming wheelchair AFL side Related Story: Aussie rules on wheels: Diggers involved in sport's competitive debut Related Story: Adelaide wheelchair basketball players eye national league Map: Adelaide 5000

Navy seaman Mark Daniels was 22 years of age when he was horrifically injured in a motorcycle accident.

Key points:

  • The National Wheelchair Aussie Rules Championships are being held in Adelaide
  • It is an adaptation of AFL and is played on a basketball court
  • Servicemen and women play the sport to help recover from physical and mental injury

"I was struck by a distracted vehicle. It resulted in a broken neck, 11 broken ribs, a punctured lung, [a] ruptured kidney," he said.

"I died three times, 65 units of blood and then my right leg was amputated."

After numerous setbacks, more than one dozenoperations, and having to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Mr Daniels has turned to an adaptation of an Australian pastime to help his rehabilitation journey.

While Australian footballis often scrutinised for the injuries it causes, it is helping Mr Daniels recover.

"Anything to do with a wheelchair and a bit of contact, I love it," he said.

"[I've] always been a big rugby boy so for me, anything that gets me back into a bit of argy bargy, it's good fun."

Two teams from the Australian Defence Force are taking part in the fourth edition of the National Wheelchair Aussie Rules Championships underway in Adelaide.

During the three-day competition, teams from South Australia, Victoria, RSL Active Victoria and the Australian Defence Force will compete.

Two men sitting in wheelchairs reach their arms above their heads to try and grab a football Photo: The ADF team went up against a strong South Australian side during the championships. (Supplied)

The sport is played on a basketball court and because kicking is not possible, a handball is a kick and a throw is a handball.

A mark is still a mark and there are goals and behinds.

'It gives you that sense of mateship'

The Australian Defence Force has 13 players spread across two teams at the national championships and the RSL is also fielding a team.

And for these men and women, the scoreboard does not tell the whole story.

Not only do younger, injured players get to take part in the physical side of things, they also get to challenge their older rivals.

Two men sitting in wheelchairs with their hands above their heads reaching for a football Photo: The game is played between two teams of five with interchange players. (Supplied)

"It gives you that sense of mateship and we'll be playing against the veterans," Daniels said.

"So you'll have active service guys against veterans giving each other a good run for their money."

ADF teammateTom Foster said the format was different, but the important thing was getting back into a competitive environment.

"A lot of rehabilitative sports are generally individual sports, so to be part of a team and have that full team mateship back behind you is really, really great.," he said.

"To be able to get back into it … it's a slightly different style, we're in a chair but I can't stress how much fun it is."

'Great platform' to help with recovery

The Defence Force teams consist of players who have a range of injuries, some short-term and some long-term.

Some of them will have to transition out of service.

Army captain Adam Mowat said the relatively new game was a vital tool to help servicemen and women to recover.

"Sport is a great platform for the camaraderie that it builds and the positive mental health that it builds," Mowat said.

A woman sitting in a wheelchair holds a football in front of her as she prepares to handball Photo: Women and men have taken up the sport to help in their recovery. (Supplied)

"It's another way of wounded, injured and ill soldiers coming together, whether they are going to be reintegratedor transitioned back [into society] and still be that living embodiment of those Army values."

Daniels said the game had helped him get back to being himself again and he believed it had helped others as well.

"For me, sport has really been the thing that's helped me back to that normality," he said.

"You're all equal on court and you're playing as equals against other people instead of trying to run against people with two legs which doesn't work."

Topics: disabilities, health, australian-football-league, adelaide-5000, sa, australia

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