14. So It's Back To The Grind For Me

As I have talked about in my previous blogs, Rio2016 left me feeling enormously disappointed, with a feeling of what might have been.

However, it has also lit a fire beneath me, I know I don’t want to feel that disappointment again, so I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t.

I want the attention that the ParalympicsGB medal winners got when they returned home (read more of my time in Rio here). I love how, in our country, we celebrate excellence and I would never want that to change. I think it is very important to celebrate success, it helps us push harder and achieve more. This time around, I wasn’t amongst the medalists but I really want what they have, the success, the attention and the admiration. I know the amount of hard work it will take to get it and that hard work has already started.

The first step on that journey is coming back over to the U.S.A to play with the Ability360 Phoenix Heat. This will be my third time playing for the team and we are looking to continue winning ways. I have been part of the Phoenix Heat team when we have won two national championships, and I am here to make it three.

The US Quad Rugby League (USQRA) is regarded as the most competitive domestic league for wheelchair rugby in the world. During the international off season it attracts a large number of foreign players looking to sharpen up their skills and gain extra court time. Also, the weather here at the moment is absolutely beautiful, so it makes a great place to get away from the British winter and knuckle down with some serious winter training. Our sport is predominantly played inside so weather isn’t really that much of a factor when competing. I sound like I am old before my years, but due to my disability my joints become stiff and painful if I get cold so being able to live, train and play in the much warmer climate in Phoenix definitely helps.

I have been away from Phoenix for over a year but it was certainly straight back to work! I landed on Monday 17th and the first tournament started on Friday 21st. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like I have been away at all! Patterns of play seemingly pick up right where we left off and so did the team banter. There is a really nice team dynamic here and we’ve had the same core of players for a number of years. There are also a number of experienced players here who expect and demand a lot, not only from themselves but from each other as well. Training sessions and games can get pretty heated at times but it is usually all forgotten once we have left the court. The atmosphere here is something I really feed off, in America winning is everything and they make no secret of it. That is definitely our team mentality, no one here will ever be content with coming second.

Our first tournament was called the “Duel in the Desert”, which is a multi sport event hosted at the Ability360 Sports and Fitness Centre. It is an opportunity for teams across Arizona to showcase a number of disability sports including; wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair lacrosse, power soccer and amputee basketball.

The ‘Ability360 Sports & Fitness Centre‘ is an amazing facility and I am incredibly jealous that we do not have anything similar at all in the UK. The whole centre is set up to help people with disabilities. It is one of the leading centres of its kind in the USA and it is one of the biggest reasons I chose to play in Phoenix in the first instance and why I choose to keep returning. I still follow a training plan set out by GB’s strength and conditioning coach but I have access to awesome facilities and incredible staff that allow me to really push my training to another level whilst I am here.

The Ability360 Heat managed to get the season off to a winning start, winning all three games we played. It is good to see that our patterns of offence and defence are working well so far. However, as team we know it is just a start, we will continue to push ourselves in training because we know our opposition will only get stronger.

The first official team ranking came out today and the Ability360 Heat are currently ranked No1 and we will work hard to make sure that does not change. Our next tournament is called “Best of the West” and takes place in San Diego’s Balboa Park on the 17th-20th of November. This is a highly competitive tournament that attracts some of the best US and Canadian club teams.

I simply cannot wait.