Ready To Tackle Wheelchair Rugby At Warrior Games

RAAF

Ask Ben Owens which event he’s looking forward to most at the upcoming 2024 Warrior Games and he’ll give you a simple four-word answer: ‘Clash of the Titans’.

In his opinion, audiences viewing the wheelchair rugby matches live at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, will witness a battle of epic proportions when Team Australia takes on their US counterparts in this physical, yet entertaining sport.

As for Mr Owens, he’ll be right in the thick of the action, loving every single minute of each bruising encounter, knowing his wife Melinda, children Cameron and Neve, and parents Barbara and Tony, will be cheering him on loudly from the grandstand.

“I will have a grin from ear to ear from the very first crunch of metal and for the rest of my life. I want it to be as big a clash as possible – the more noise and the more grunt the better,” he said.

“To be honest, wheelchair rugby is the sport that motivated me to get to the Warrior and Invictus Games.”

It was a seemingly simple food-poisoning episode during a United Nations mission to South Sudan in 2014 which led to the former Army serviceman’s eventual diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.

Although Mr Owens was able to regain most of his leg and hand function after one or two years, the condition continued to worsen, so much so that a distinguished 30-year career as a signals officer and in project management came to end in 2019 with a medical discharge.

Acknowledging his unit, and the support from Army and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs during this difficult time – and ongoing support today – Mr Owens also admitted to feeling a little lost until he went to the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018.

“I went into the room that said wheelchair rugby, not knowing what it was, and when I saw the physicality and the fun and camaraderie between the opposing teams, I knew I would play rugby for Australia at a future Invictus Games,” said Mr Owens, who will also be competing in sitting volleyball, archery and swimming at the adaptive sport event.

“I’ve experienced the same camaraderie at the Warrior Games camps – the immediate level of comfort and familiarity with everyone; the way we speak and take the mickey out of each other. It’s wonderful to be back amongst my own people.”

While winning medals might be a bonus, it’s the on-court rugby action that matters most for Mr Owens.

“It’s us versus them – a ‘Clash of the Titans’. I can’t wait to face up against the best of each of the American teams and put them in their place,” he said.

“If I’m going to win, I’ve got to earn it. If they’re going to win, I’m going to make sure they earn it.”

The Department of Defense Warrior Games will be held from June 21 to 30. It brings together hundreds of wounded, injured and ill serving and former serving military members, including a team of 30 Australian competitors.

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