That’s gold: Townsville team takes out top spot for Invictus Games rugby
01 November 2018
Three years ago, veteran Jeff Wright was battling an incomplete T12 injury that left him with multiple fractures, loss of vision in one eye and the need for a full facial reconstruction.
Following extensive rehabilitation at The Townsville Hospital, Jeff went on to become flag bearer for Australia and captain for wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball at the Invictus Games, leading his rugby team to a glorious gold-medal winning victory.
Jeff’s journey from soldier to athlete started in The Townsville Hospital’s rehabilitation unit, where three of his four teammates were treated and where Jeff was introduced to wheelchair sports.
“When I was in rehabilitation there was a man – who has since passed away – who kept asking me to play basketball, but I didn't want to because that would mean that I was admitting I was disabled,” Jeff said.
“Yet the moment I got out onto the court and played I loved it.
“I’ve since travelled across Australia and overseas playing wheelchair basketball and rugby and have been the captain for wheelchair rugby two years running for the Invictus Games.”
Jeff’s gold-medal-winning rugby team consisted of Davin Bretherton, a below knee amputee, Peter Arbuckle, a below-knee amputee and David Connolly, an above knee amputee.
Jeff said his team had a roaring lead up to the tournament, taking out wins all over the country.
“Prior to the Sydney Invictus Games we played nationals against the states and beat every team there at least once, we also played a Western Australia team and won there, so it was a strong lead-up to the tournament,” Jeff said.
“When we got to the Invictus Games, we won in double overtime in the group stages against the United Kingdom, who we played again in the gold medal game.
“In the final, we beat the United Kingdom 23 to 17 to win the gold medal.”
Jeff said someone close to the team’s hearts presented them with their precious gold medal.
“One of the people that had been supportive of the whole Invictus campaign for us was the Governor of New South Wales, General David Hurley AC DSC, and his wife Linda,” Jeff said.
“David has jumped in a wheelchair himself and played against us so for him to present our gold medal was a really wonderful moment.
“The rugby team presented a Wheeling Diggers medallion to the Governor to personally show our respect for his support, not just this year but last year in Toronto when we played as well.
“Getting off the courts this year I was also lucky enough to have my daughter there – she doesn’t cry very often so when she came down courtside after the presentation she had a tear in her eye, as did I.”
Jeff said he is immensely thankful for the people who helped him after his horrific motorcycle incident three years ago, as he has gone from barely moving his feet to being able to stand and walk with assistance.
“There's a lot of people involved in my life that got me to where I am today; from the paramedics who saved my life all the way through to the physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors and medical staff.
“I especially want to thank Alli, my physiotherapist from The Townsville Hospital, who took me on after I discharged from Brisbane spinal unit; she helped me go from barely being able to tap my left foot to assisted walking.
“If I didn’t have these amazing people by my side I wouldn't have achieved what I have or even have had the opportunity to be exposed to this, so I'm grateful for every single one of them.”
Physiotherapist Alli McClean said Jeff dedicated himself to physiotherapy five days a week over 18 months and his remarkable determination was infectious among other patients in the unit.
“It was very clear from the start that if Jeff had the ability to walk then he’d be aiming for that without a second thought,” Alli said.
“He was extremely motivated; he kept going, and was always willing to try whatever we suggested in therapy.
“Jeff was even the first person in Queensland to learn to walk with a Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis (KAFO) with a microprocessor knee joint, which was an exciting challenge for of us.”
Alli said integrating wheelchair sports into Jeff’s recovery really helped his progress.
“You could see the difference that wheelchair basketball and rugby had on Jeff – not only on for his mental health but also his physical health and determination, because he could see how far people in similar situations had come, which pushed him forward even more,” Alli said.
“Jeff had always been determined, but in the early stages he wasn’t as outgoing or as sure of himself as he is now; however, that’s the confidence you get playing wheelchair sports.
“That mateship aspect makes all the difference as well, and Jeff really enjoyed the peer support and camaraderie that the teams provided.
“Jeff is an inspiration through and through and everyone here loves when he comes to visit because he brings that big, infectious sense of humour and just shows us how far you can go if you work closely with the whole rehab physiotherapy team and put your mind to it and.”
The Invictus Games spans over eight days, with wounded soldiers from across the world battling it out over 11 different sports.