Rio 2016 Paralympic gold medallist Jayden Warn on the sporting passion that grew out of adversity. By Richard Cooke.


Setting goals: Jayden Warn, 23, wheelchair rugby player

When I was going through rehab at Royal Talbot in Melbourne I was pretty much thrown into wheelchair rugby. An ex-Australian player just asked if I wanted to try out this sport. He said it was sort of in my ballpark, and I jumped in one of the chairs while I was in rehab and pretty much fell in love with it straight away.

I grew up riding motocross and BMX and anything on wheels, then I found the only full-contact wheelchair sport. It was pretty much meant to be, in my eyes. 

“Murderball” was the original name. But from what I know they couldn’t really market that when the sport started getting bigger, so they changed it. First it was quad rugby, but it was just quadriplegics playing it at the time. And that evolved into wheelchair rugby, with amputees and people with CP [cerebral palsy] and all that sort of stuff.

We do have a lot of injuries, a lot of shoulder injuries. I’ve seen people with compound fractures in their hands and a lot of broken fingers and that sort of thing, [plus] the occasional concussion.

“Why don’t you wear more protective clothing?” That’s a question that gets thrown at us. But with anyone who’s been through the trauma that a massive amount of the players that play this sport have … we’ve been through so much already. 

I wouldn’t say that you feel a bit invincible, but we’ve all been through stuff before. A lot of us before our accidents were adrenalin junkies and thrillseekers and this is the perfect way to sort of vent that energy and that adrenalin that you want to get rid of. The injury side of it is so minor that we don’t even think of it.

I started when I was only 18. I was and still am the youngest on the squad, and that was definitely a massive part of it. You rely on your teammates in a sense to get you through and to teach you. It wasn’t just one player, it was the whole team taking me under their wing.

When I came into the squad in 2013, the guys had won gold. We were pretty much at our top level, No. 1 in the world. There was a lot of pressure I put on myself to get to that high level very quick. And I made Worlds in 2014 and was part of the team that won our very first Worlds gold. I didn’t think anything could top that.

From when I started I had the goal of winning a Paralympics gold medal. Whether it was in Rio or Tokyo or whatever, but I wasn’t giving up until I made it.

It’s hard to explain how that felt, achieving so much in so little time. Coming from where I’d come from with my [2011 car] accident, it’s definitely the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.

I was stubborn. I pretty much had a goal in my head and I was going to make it. I think a massive part of it is we have such a big support staff that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Between team sport psychologists that have come in and done lectures and talks to us about all that sort of thing. I guess in the big scheme of things I was just lucky enough to never sort of lose that, and I always had that, I guess strength … frame of mind throughout the whole process.

I’ve grown up in the country my whole life. Things like this don’t happen around here [Drouin, Victoria] very often, so I got a lot publicity and media especially in the lead-up and afterwards. But throughout the whole thing just through word of mouth, through my friends and all that, finding out where I was going with my sport.

I had my accident locally, so everybody already knew and followed me through all that. So I got that support not just from family and friends but the whole town. Just going down the street, people’s words of support and all that, it was massive. I’m lucky enough to have that, compared to some. Some of the players I know that obviously come from the big city don’t have that sort of support behind them.


This week’s highlights…

Golf: Women’s British Open

Until Sunday, Kingsbarns Golf Links, Scotland

NRL: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters

Sunday, 2pm (AEST), Lottoland, Brookvale, NSW

AFL: Richmond v Hawthorn

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Rugby union: Super Rugby grand final – Lions v Crusaders

Saturday, 11.59pm (AEST), Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Motorsport: Czech Republic MotoGP

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic

Rugby union: Women’s Rugby World Cup – Australia v Ireland

Thursday, 4am (AEST), UCD Bowl, Dublin

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 5, 2017 as "Setting goals".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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