After breaking his neck in a freak accident, playing wheelchair rugby has helped Gavin Rolton get back into sport.

Now, 14 years later he is set to be a Paralympian after helping the New Zealand Wheel Blacks make it through Paralympics qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.

After breaking his neck diving into a river on the Sunshine Coast in 2005, Gavin returned home to New Zealand for rehabilitation.

Having always been an active person Gavin found that wheelchair rugby was a sport specifically designed for his level of impairment.


"I've always been pretty active. I played rugby when I was young and got into surfing and snowboarding.

Gavin Rolton's bronze medal from the IWRF Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championship. Photo / Rosalie Willis
Gavin Rolton's bronze medal from the IWRF Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championship. Photo / Rosalie Willis

"Getting into a wheelchair didn't stop that."

Now with tetraplegia, no feeling from his collar bone downwards and with limited movement in his arms and no movement in his fingers, life has been a big adjustment for Gavin.

"It's a big adjustment but it's not the end of the world. You can get on with life still. There are still pretty exciting opportunities if you are willing to get on with things."

Fast forward two years on from his accident, Gavin got into playing wheelchair rugby in 2007 and was selected for the New Zealand Wheel Blacks team in 2009.

"I didn't want to just sit there and do nothing.

"At the time I had my injury there was an American documentary called Murderball which came out about some American wheelchair rugby players.

"You got to hear about their rugby but also their lives — that was a real motivation for me.


"I was like if these guys are trying to live normal lives and get on with stuff then there's no reason why I can't."

It has since taken him all over the world to Tokyo, Korea, Japan, France, Australia, Canada, Denmark, London, Bali and many more places.

"It was awesome being selected, it was so exciting.

"Getting involved in a team sport after the injury and getting back up on your feet, it was a huge honour."

It's been a rollercoaster of a ride since 2009 for Gavin having been part of the team that twice missed out on Paralympic qualification by two points.

"I've been to two Paralympic qualifiers and both times missed out by two points.


"They were both really tight games and to work so hard and miss out was pretty gut-wrenching."

Competing at the IWRF Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championship in Korea earlier this month, the New Zealand Wheel Blacks won bronze, which placed them third, earning New Zealand a qualification at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.