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The Warriors of Wheelchair Rugby: Jason Maves

Written By: Chris Perotte

 “I AM, I AM.”

The words “I AM” echoed throughout the streets of Toronto.  “I AM , I AM Invictus Games Toronto 2017!”

The Invictus Games were held in Toronto from September 23-30, 2017. 17 nations participated.

The name, Invictus Games, was inspired by the poem “Invictus” written by William Ernest Henley:

“Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be.
For my unconquerable soul….”

The Invictus Games has inspired men and women from many countries to participate in sport, despite the challenges they face.

Thirty-eight year old Jason Maves from Welland, Ontario took part in his very first Invictus Games as a member of Team Canada. He competed in the Wheelchair Rugby event. Maves joined the Canadian Army in 1998 when he was 18 years old, and served five years as a Refrigeration and Mechanical Systems Technician.

For Maves, the Invictus Games means being your best.

“To me, the Invictus Games means ‘sportsmanship’, and ‘personal best’.  It’s a chance to strive towards your personal best while maintaining true sportsmanship at every turn,” explains Maves. He believes it’s all about one’s mindset in striving for your best no matter the outcome.

Maves first fell in love with the game of rugby in Grade 9 while attending A.N. Myer Secondary School in Niagara Falls, Ontario. But the love of the game became more than just sport while attending Westlane Secondary School in Niagara Falls, Ontario; it now felt like a family.

When Maves was presented with the opportunity to participate in the Invictus Games being hosted at home, he first thought it was a joke. However, participating in the Invictus Games in Toronto became an exciting reality for the athlete.

“I heard someone mention the games in passing and kind of laughed, thinking he was joking. Later that night I researched it and was amazed at the opportunity it could offer in my recovery,” says Maves. “So I put my name in the hat and was one of the lucky ones. I chose my individual sports like Archery as first choice and Track as second, I then saw wheelchair rugby as a team sport. After researching wheelchair rugby I flipped out and fell in love.”

Maves began training for both archery and wheelchair rugby but eventually, due to scheduling conflicts, he chose wheelchair rugby. “In the end it was wheelchair rugby that I needed to choose. The fire was stoked and I was hungry for the hits,” says Maves.

Game time.

Maves sat inside the locker room with his fellow teammates, taking it all in. He described the atmosphere of sharing this Invictus Games moment with them. “Nerves, fear, exhaustion, and excitement filled everyone, but the pride and excitement are what showed,” Jason shares.

“It was a bonding experience that turned us into a tight family.”

On the team, Jason Maves played in a defensive position. His primary role was to prevent his opponents from making a break for the end zone. He played in a specially designed defensive wheelchair. This type of wheelchair has its wheels angled towards the seat. The wheelchair also comes with a front bar, which allows a player to either hook into or smash areas of their opponents chairs. It also allows the player to flip the other player over.

If you are a fan of the game of rugby but think that playing wheelchair rugby is a simpler form of the game, you are incorrect. Maves himself quickly learned that wheelchair rugby isn’t a simple game. “It took a lot of practice and help from friends to learn the little tricks to save energy, add some better chair skills. Then I was ready... or so I thought,” says Maves. 

“Next comes the hitting and yes you get to hit A LOT. It is not just tolerated but expected and strategic as well. You hit to block chairs, you hit to break chairs, and you hit to flip chairs!! It is all strategy – even flipping them. An opponent with a ball that gets hit so hard they flip over ends up loosing possession of the ball.”

Maves laughs: “hitting and flipping is strategy – and fun!”

His time and experience at the Invictus Games in Toronto couldn't been possible without the love and support of his family. They attended his games and assisted with his training in preparation for the games.

The Invictus Games brought to Toronto a sense of pride and admiration for those individuals who gave their blood, sweat and tears to protect the rights and freedoms of the country they represented and fought for. In the eyes of Jason Maves, the Invictus Games brought him something he will never forget.

“The one thing I will never forget about the games is the Invictus spirit,” shares Maves. “The mentality that you are not there to get the gold [medal] but you are there to get your personal best. To promote sportsmanship and treat this as the beginning of your recovery. It gives us more than a competition, it gives us comradery and friendship with others who are recovering just like us. It's a chance for us to become mentors for others.”

Jason Maves’ experience during the Invictus Games 2017 is an example for all us. In spite of our situation or challenges, we do the best we can. We should strive for continued excellence.  As the Invictus poem states:

“I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.”

To be continued: The Warriors of Wheelchair Rugby.