EXCLUSIVE ‘Sports pulled me out of a dark hole’: Australian wheelchair rugby player Ryley Batt credits the Paralympics for helping him accept his disability in early 20s
Netflix’s new documentary Rising Phoenix explores the history of the Paralympic Games and the stories of nine incredible Paralympians across the globe, including Australian wheelchair rugby player, Ryley Batt.
Born without legs and refusing to use a wheelchair until he was twelve, the now two-time gold medalist, 31, credits the Paralympics for pulling him out of a dark hole in his early 20s and helping him towards accepting and being proud of his disability.
Ryley was just 15 when he first competed at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, and has since won two gold and one silver medal at four separate Games.
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EXCLUSIVE ‘Sports pulled me out of a dark hole’: Australian wheelchair rugby player Ryley Batt has told how the Paralympics has helped him accept his disability in early 20s
He is the captain of the Australian wheelchair rugby side and the co-captain of the Australian Paralympic side.
In the film, Ryley recalls feeling ashamed of his disability as an overweight child, before finding solace and purpose in sport.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday, he said: ‘It took me until my early 20s to accept who I am and my disability – it was pivotal time in my life.’
‘The Paralympics has given me a life I don’t think I would have lived if I didn’t find sport’: Ryley told Daily Mail Australia that taking up wheelchair rugby became a pivotal moment for finding purpose, joy and acceptance with his disability
‘The Paralympics has given me a life I don’t think I would have lived if I didn’t find it and sport. If I wasn’t involved in sport, I would probably be 40kg heavier, more insecure about myself, more tucked away, and not living life to the fullest.
‘Sports pulled me out of a dark hole and the elite level of the Parlympics games pushed me to be better in that sport. I have done things in life now that I probably never would have done with legs.
‘I am glad that I was born with a disability. I am very proud of my accomplishments and my life,’ he added.
‘I have done things in life now that I probably never would have done with legs’: Ryley says he’s proud of his disability, life and sporting accomplishments – including three Paralympic medals
Ryley still cringes when he watches old footage of his performance at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics because he feels personally responsible for missing out on the gold because he was overweight.
‘When I dropped the weight [30kg], it was a huge confidence boost and forced me to get out in the public and smash those barriers and be proud of who I was,’ he said.
Ryley’s newfound confidence also led him to his wife-of-five-years, Crystal.
‘I’ve been with my now-wife since 2011. That was the time just after I was accepting who I was more and I was so much more comfortable in my skin,’ he said.
‘Beijing still makes me cringe’: Ryley said he still cringes when he watches old footage of his performance at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, because he feels personally responsible for missing out on the gold because he was overweight. Pictured in 2012
Happy: Ryley’s newfound confidence also led him to his wife-of-five-years, Crystal. The pair tied the knot in 2011
The film likens the wheelchair tackles in Ryley’s elite sport to a small car collision, and the sportsman confirms it definitely took a toll on his body.
Ryley’s had multiple concussions, broken fingers, ribs and elbows, and also torn both shoulders out.
‘I can’t even do my top button up or touch my shoulder anymore, or my neck, because my elbows are that bad. But that’s just sport. Anyone who wants to play a sport at that level is going to have injuries. It is what it is,’ he said.
The stories of the other seven Paralympians in the film are just as astonishing, and Ryley hopes the documentary will help give people a perspective of how big the Paralympics is and the incredible athletes who compete in it.
‘A lot of people look past my disability, and so they should,’ Ryley said, adding that in London and Rio he ‘felt like a superstar’ whenever he hit the court.
‘I can’t even do my top button up or touch my shoulder anymore’: The film likens the wheelchair tackles in Ryley’s elite sport to a small car collision, and the sportsman confirms it definitely took a toll on his body. Ryley’s had multiple concussions, broken fingers, ribs and elbows, and also torn both shoulders out. Pictured at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Ryley said while news of the Tokyo Games postponement was hard to hear at first, he’s not letting it affect his training.
‘Whinging or getting down about it wont change the date. It will just be another year of becoming a stronger athlete,’ he said.
‘For many Paralympians, so many of us have had to overcome obstacles in our lives and this is just a small bump in the road.’
The groundbreaking film features Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and nine Paralympians: Bebe Vio (Italy), Ellie Cole (Australia), Jean-Baptiste Alaize (France), Matt Stutzman (USA), Jonnie Peacock (Great Britain), Cui Zhe (China), Ryley Batt (Australia), Ntando Mahlangu (South Africa) and Tatyana McFadden (USA).
Rising Phoenix is available to stream now on Netflix
Watch now: Rising Phoenix is available to stream now on Netflix. Pictured: Australian Paralympic swimmer Ellie Cole