Awesome Humans 26 Oct
Tokyo 2020 through the Eyes of a Paralympian
By Barney Koneferenisi
Barney Koneferenisi is a member of the New Zealand Wheelchair Rugby team known as the Wheelblacks. He got a late call up to join them at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, the first time a New Zealand wheelchair rugby team had competed at the games since 2008. We asked Barney to share his experience at the Tokyo Paralympics, have a read below.
Ever since I started playing Wheelchair Rugby in 2009 at almost every training, I remember hearing the boys talk about the big games that were the Paralympics; hearing their stories and experiences excited me and made me want to experience it myself.
When we got the chance to go to the Tokyo Paralympics, it felt like a dream come true, and when we arrived, it was everything I was told and more. We unpacked our bags and attended our exclusive opening ceremony led by Sophie Pascoe; we then went to the dining hall, where we were blown away by the number of different countries all in one space.
Alt text: Barney and his team the Wheelblacks at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on-court gathering around in a circle. He is with seven teammates who are wearing blue jerseys and his coach is wearing a white tee and black shorts crouching on the ground.
Since covid was still lingering, we had to take extra precautions while we were there, sanitizing our food trays and wiping down tables before and after we ate, and when we were eating, we had plastic shields around us protecting us from each other. Going around the dining hall, you had a massive array of food to choose from, ranging from Indonesian to Thai to even a serving of cheeky fried chicken.
Coming out of the dining hall, you were greeted by the Japanese volunteers and a crazy show outside; luckily, our apartment was right next to the dining hall, so the push wasn’t too long. The best part was pushing back to our dorm and seeing all the different flags flying over the apartments. We had India next door to us, Germany and Denmark right across the road and the Czech Republic team a block down.
Day four was when the competition started for us; we had our first training game against Denmark, blowing out cobwebs and setting up plays. Day five rolled around, and we got to show the world who we were. When that anthem played, a rush of emotions took over, and I had a flashback of the dream and everyone that helped me get there, and as soon as that haka started, I knew it was real.
The days went by fast, and just like that, the Games were over. I remember coming into the games, I was nervous and didn’t want to go, but after those 14 days, I didn’t want to leave. I remember shedding a few tears when we jumped on that bus and waved bye to the hundreds of volunteers. And when we left that village for the last time, I knew I wanted to come back for more.
Bring on Paris 2024!
Alt text: Left image: Barney is pictured playing in action with his arm holding the ball against his chest. He has fallen, with his hand on the ground and wheelchair on its side. He is on the court at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games. Right image: Barney chasing a ball mid air as his Danish opponent creeps in from his right hand side.
All Pictures from Getty Images (2021)