After a tragic accident, this gymnast found new life through wheelchair rugby

 

When Jared McIntyre couldn’t hold his knife and fork it was obvious that his life had changed for good. Even the simplest tasks were now beyond him. A former national gymnast, McIntyre needed help just to eat. After a diving accident broke two of his lower vertebrae his once limitless world had constricted, shrinking to the dimensions of his wheelchair. But today, a decade later, McIntyre is back competing in elite sport.

Though his body was broken, McIntyre’s heart still beat for competition. Just two months into rehabilitation after his accident he was introduced to former wheelchair rugby coach Victor Buitendach, who sparked his interest in the sport. One session on the floor and that was that. Hooked. McIntyre had no trouble adapting to the hard-hitting contact of rugby – a stark contrast to the highflying grace of gymnastics. Reinvigorated by the sport and eager to infect other wheelchair-bound people with the drive to own their bodies, McIntyre started the Mustang Wheelchair Rugby Club in Bloemfontein.

“It’s challenging at first, but once you get your head around it you see that there are great things in life,” he says. The Mustangs experienced their most successful year in 2016, winning the national championship and subsequently being named South Africa’s Disabled Sports Team of the Year. While the team cherish their achievements, their sole focus remains inspiring more quadriplegics to use sport as a means of rehabilitating their minds. Whether or not the challenge is physical, a positive attitude can be lifesaving – it has been for McIntyre.