When Gavin Rolton joined the New Zealand wheelchair rugby team in 2009 his immediate goal was to go to the Paralympics.
It probably seemed a fairly attainable goal if he kept his spot in the side, with the Wheel Blacks considered automatic qualifiers having achieved three medals in their previous four Paralympic campaigns, including gold in Athens 2004.
However, it's been a 12-year wait for Rolton as the Wheel Blacks return to the event in Tokyo after missing out on making the last two Paralympics. The Covid-19 pandemic added another 12 months to the drought but the 38-year-old has never been short of motivation.
"You get told a lot of stuff in the early days. You get told you can't do this and you can't do that. They're big challenges for me but… if someone tells you you can't do something it is also a really big motivation for me," he says.
Rolton was injured in a diving accident in Australia in 2005, breaking the C5 and C6 vertebrae in his neck.
"I dived into the water not thinking how shallow it was. I remember diving into the river and then just being face down in the water not being to roll over. I was wiggling my shoulders but that was all I could do. When my mate turned me over I knew instantly, I've broken my neck."
"Initially I got pretty sick and definitely emotional. I've never been one to sit around and do nothing, I suppose that's definitely helped with being in the chair. At the time the documentary Murderball came out and that followed the lives of the USA wheelchair rugby team, comparing guys with similar injuries to me. You see other guys doing it and you think 'if he can do it then there's no reason I can't'.
Rolton started playing wheelchair rugby in 2007 and was selected for the Wheel Blacks two years later. His immediate goal was to represent New Zealand at the Paralympics.
"It's a pretty exciting game to watch and I thought 'man, I want to be part of this'. Right from the start my goal was to go to the London Paralympics. I was dead set on it. I joined the Wellington team and got involved."
After being part of the two previous heartbreaking failures to qualify for the Paralympics, New Zealand and Rolton booked their spot for Tokyo in September 2019 after beating South Korea for bronze at the IWRF Asia-Oceania Championships.
Barney Koneferenisi, Hayden Barton-Cootes, Cody Everson, Robert Hewitt, Tainafi Lefono, Gareth Lynch and Mike Todd make up the team with Rolton. All of the players will be making their Paralympic debut.
The Wheel Blacks have been drawn in pool B alongside Rio 2016 silver medallists United States, Great Britain and Canada.
"[I'm] excited that the team's finally qualified. I've been involved in a competitive sport that's taken me so many places and given me a lot of confidence. When you have an injury like I've had, things can be quite sheltered and you can get stuck into routines – it gets you out of your comfort zone," Rolton said.
"I love the competitive nature of the sport, I love the places I've been, I love the people I've met. The experience I've had it's been phenomenal. I enjoy the young new guys coming through because I had guys that did the same for me and so I really want to give back. I love watching guys who have similar attitudes as myself and just want to give everything a go. If you fail, at least you've tried and you've given it a go. Just because someone has told you you can't do something, you don't know until you try."
Toyota is a major partner of Paralympics New Zealand, helping Kiwis to 'Start Your Impossible'.