- Gavin Walker becomes one of 12 selected for the GB Wheelchair Rugby Paralympic squad
- Gavin took up rugby having suffered a spinal injury at home
Despite having been in challenging situations as a firefighter, it was slipping on decking at home in 2010 which saw Gavin Walker become a wheelchair user.
The father of two young daughters, Gavin faced many months of rehabilitation in the Sheffield Spinal Unit but it was also there that he met Sarah Leighton, a Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) classifier and physio, who encouraged him to go to his first training session at the Marauders Club.
Soon he was selected for the Great Britain Development Squad and now Gavin is a full-time athlete and Paralympian, heading out to the Rio Paralympics as Vice-Captain of the GB squad.
“I’d never played rugby before my injury and was more into individual sports such as cycling and running. But having been a firefighter I loved the team environment and rugby fulfilled the part of the job that I used to do before my injury - an aspect I missed," says Walker.
Having taken to the sport with enthusiasm, Gavin joined a new group of players who now make up the main body of the national squad and in 2013 he was selected to play for the GB team.
By July last year he was vice captain of Great Britain for the European Championship before returning to play in the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Championships 2015 (WWRC15) in London.
The Rio Paralympics sees him targeting gold and revelling in the role of Paralympian. His parents will be going out to support the squad.
ROAD TO RIO
"Training is really stepping up now and the final GB squad of 12 are in camp training and building chemistry ahead of Rio. We’re just back from competing in Japan, where we won silver, and we won gold in Brazil earlier in the year. Both competitions have been great preparation for us,” says Gavin.
After a trip to Canada for the Canada Cup to play the top teams in the world, the squad will be Rio bound.
“We’re currently ranked fifth in the world and we’ve got a young, talented squad with growing experience. We’re improving all the time, have been beating the teams above us in the rankings and we know we can do it,” says Gavin.
The Marauders team trains at venues including the local Princess Royal Spinal Injuries Unit where those recently injured are undergoing rehabilitation, whilst the GB team’s training base is at Lilleshall.
“When they are used to being in a bed for weeks on end and going through the hard work of rehabilitation, coming to see us for 20 mins is a real eye opener,” says Gavin. “Sport is an excellent rehabilitation, not just physically - making a person stronger and fitter - but mentally. Being in and around people in a similar situation shows just what you can do.”
Wheelchair Rugby has grown continuously since the 2012 London Paralympics, tripling in size with three times as many clubs across the nation and three leagues.
“The rate of development is phenomenal and the momentum of the team selected for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games has been a joy to watch," says Paul Shaw, GBWR Head Coach.
“We have built great impetus and belief over the early tournaments this year and, although confidence is high, we remain focused on continuing the hard work and tactical development as we must play at our best and be consistent under pressure to give ourselves a great chance of progressing further into the tournament.”
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Chris Ryan (Captain)
Gavin Walker (Vice Captain)