Sheffield firefighter turned Paralympic champion calls for support to help more people like him
A former Sheffield firefighter who led Team GB to gold victory in Tokyo hopes wheelchair rugby will get the support it needs to help more people like him in the future.
Gavin Walker and his unstoppable squad beat USA 54-49 in the Paralympic competition finals.
The historic win, with Gavin as co-captain, secured not only Team GB’s first medal in the sport but the first gold for a European country.
Gavin, a father-of-two who became a full-time athlete after being paralysed and breaking his neck after slipping on garden decking 11 years ago, said: “I think I got into the sport for the physical reasons but I found it was the mental side of it that benefitted me the most.
“I was around people who had been using wheelchairs for much longer than I had, who showed me my potential wasn't limited.
“They made me realise how important it was to do better every day, not just as an athlete but in all my life so I could get back my independence.
“It was very frustrating that we couldn't play during Covid.
“We were all waiting for the biggest tournament of our lives and just wanted to get into it."
“I think the quality of play at the tournament by all teams was very high but our team played exceptionally in the last two games.
“It takes longer than it looks to bring the medals out on the podium, and I had time to reflect not just on how far I had come but on all the people who supported me to get here too.
“I hope the win will bring extra funding and help the sport become more professional.
“Journalists like to mention how the sport used to be called 'murderball' to get a headline, but with a win like this it will help other athletes see it is a medal winning sport they can consider.
“The more support and funding it gets the more people it can help like it helped me.”
Gavin was in rehab at the Sheffield Spinal Unit when he was introduced to wheelchair rugby for the first time.
He spent most of his firefighting career at Mansfield Road fire station, in Intake.