Half a piece of paper. That is the measurement that delivered Danny Byrne his first competition victory in a thrilling game of boccia at the Victorian titles. Spectators and competitors alike, on the edge of their seats or wheelchairs, erupted into a cheer. For Danny it was an important milestone in a new journey.
Boccia is a sport that can be played be people who use wheelchairs. At competition level it is also played by people with other conditions such as cerebral palsy. How a player can be assisted is determined by their ability. In competitions there are often two teams of two or three players.
To begin the game, players are at one end of the field and the jack, a white ball, is tossed. Players have six balls that they take turns to pitch, or throw. The aim for players is to get one of their own or their team's balls closest to the jack. Strategy is central to the game and team mates can communicate together. Players can use their pitches to land closest to the jack or move or block opponents' balls.
Boccia is a game of good sportsmanship.
Players treat their opponents with respect and trade positive comments, remarks Danny.
Spectators including family, friends and carers are friendly and considerate.
The crowd cheers for everyone, not just their team, adds Danny's coach Ruby Fitzgerald.
A new challenge
Danny began playing boccia last September. He attended only a couple of
Come and Try events before playing in a competition. Danny enjoyed the game and added it to his already full plate. He is skilled at painting and studies multimedia. His disability has a major impact on his daily time schedule yet he finds the time to fit everything in.
The half piece of paper game
Danny was invited to play in the Victorian titles soon after his first boccia game. Danny played a tie-breaker against a more experienced player. The tough match was determined when more than half a piece of paper could be inserted between his opponent's ball and the jack, meaning that it was not as close as Danny's. His narrow win amazed judges. In the tournament, Danny finished third overall.
The road to Rio
The national titles were held in Sydney on 29 April to 3 May, followed by a Road to Rio training camp. Danny admits to being nervous on the first day of the titles. He came away from the national titles inspired by the level of skill he saw.
I felt relaxed and more confident and it showed me how much I can learn, he says.
Danny aims to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I am driven by a very competitive nature and it has become my goal. After the national titles I felt more determined than ever to reach my goals.
Just getting there would be achieving something special in my life. Danny now aims to practice harder and concentrate on the short term.
Danny's support team is a small and dedicated group of personal support workers. Some have helped out beyond their work requirements. Ruby introduced Danny to the sport and up until this point has been his coach. Danny has now reached a stage where he requires more experienced and thorough coaching.
Danny's support team all agree that his concentration and focus have improved remarkably within a short time.
In a letter urging support for Danny's goals, the boccia coordinator for the Australian Paralympics committee Paul van Oosten writes
Danny Byrne has shown tremendous talent for the sport of boccia.
While the financial pressures of his disability in day to day life are met by the government, Danny also has greater support needs in order to achieve his boccia goals. These needs include support from carers to train and attend tournaments.
To consolidate support for Danny's efforts his progress can be followed on a Facebook page entitled
Danny Byrne's road to the Paralympics.
Danny is hopeful that
my goals can inspire other people with a disability. Inspiration to follow their dreams.