10. Cap Ceremony
Disability sport is all about the Paralympics, at least that will be the main public perception. It’s also definitely the way as a sport we set out our performance cycle, everything starts and finishes with the Paralympic Games. In wheelchair rugby we’ve been working the last four years to gain qualification to the Paralympics and to be peaking for our performance whilst we’re there.
In wheelchair rugby we have other major tournaments such as European championships which is a eight team tournament held every 2 years and serves as a qualification tournament for World championships and the Paralympic Games. GB won the 2015 European Championship which secured us one of the two places available for the Rio 2016 games. World championships are a twelve team tournament and takes place every four years (two years before a Paralympic Games).
Personally for me I’ve placed equal importance on every major tournament I’ve been a part of. Whilst those events are extremely important within our sport, they don’t get the same exposure that being part of the Paralympics brings. I’m still unsure if this will impact my mental approach to the tournament or not.
The Paralympic Games is the third biggest sporting event in the world behind the Olympics and the Football World Cup. The media attention and extra interest gained has definitely been a nice novelty, especially for me as this is my first games I’m experiencing it all for the first time.
Out of all the the media events and and team ceremonies I’ve been a part of the last couple of months the one I’ve looked forward to the most and been most excited about was our Cap presentation. It’s not only special to me but it’s special to our sport.
The GB Wheelchair Rugby are the only Paralympic sport and the only country that is given an international Cap, The tradition was started at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, where their coach (an ex rugby player), wanted to mark players appearances. Being part of ParalympicsGB is incredibly special in its own right, there are only a handful of people that can say they’ve been to a Paralympic Games as an athlete. But to be able to be part of something so unique as receiving a Paralympic cap has made it even more special for me.
I think the cap ceremony meant a lot to be because of my upbringing and where I went to school. I attended ‘Christ College Brecon’ a school in mid Wales with a very proud rugby heritage. There are a number of pupils from the school that have gone on to represent their country and their Cap photos used to hang in the entrance to the school sports hall (I don’t know if it’s still the case). But I remember thinking that I’d love to have my photo hanging up there.
As a squad we were privileged to have Jason Leonard (ex England rugby player), present us with our Caps. He spoke a bit about the history around receiving an International Cap and what it meant to him receiving his first England Cap. I played a lot of rugby union growing up so I was aware of the tradition and sentimental meaning behind receiving a cap, but having someone who had received one present me with my first Cap made it even more special.
It’s definitely a memory I will cherish for a long time to come.