Having dabbled in wheelchair racing and swimming, Danial Bawthan, 23, has found his soulmate sport: wheelchair rugby. Established in Singapore in August 2016, the current team of 12 members is led by captain Richard Kuppusamy.
Previously known as ‘murderball’, wheelchair rugby was started in 1977 by quadriplegic athletes in Canada, looking for an alternative to wheelchair basketball for players without the strength to shoot a basketball. Danial, who at the age of four was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy – a hereditary condition where muscles degenerate over time – started playing when the sport was set up last year in Singapore. As players need to have loss of function in both upper or lower limbs, their conditions can range from hereditary ones like spina bifida to acquired ones like spinal cord injury.
“The aches and bruises you get,” said Danial, on the biggest physical challenge of the rugged sport.
“It's a rough game, so you’ve got to be rougher.”
Due to the constant need for turning and pushing on court, he often ends training with a sore back and aching triceps.
To mitigate the physical trials of the sport, Danial makes sure he maintains his fitness outside of training. “I take good care of my body, I eat well, I work out in the gym and do cardio at the park connectors every week. Staying [in an] optimum [condition] for the team is crucial. I want to be able to contribute greatly on court.”
Team sports are not just about individual performance, but also cooperation and effective communication between teammates. “My favourite part is forging a strong bond with [my] teammates” he said.
“I feel like I belong there. As much as I need them, they need me too.”
Having represented Singapore in overseas games, the immense sense of pride Danial feels helps to allay the “sheer amount of pressure” of competing. “When you have the flag on your chest, you want the best. Split-second decisions are crucial in deciding the fate of the game, and it’s all about making the right choice.”
Awarded the All Star 1-pointer player award in the 3rd Bali 4s Southeast Asia Wheelchair Rugby Championship in July this year, Danial believes the game is vital for improving his character, too. “I have the tendency to heat up if I feel like we didn't perform like we should have. To be disciplined and professional on and off the court is also something that challenges me [still].”
He credits regular training and competitions for helping him “meet new people”. However, his most cherished aspect of the sport is “representing Singapore”. “It couldn't get any better than that.”
“That sense of pride and love, is the reason for everything.”
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