In full flight, Ryley Batt is an impressive sight, a human wrecking ball of aggression, speed and skill propelled by powerful, tattooed arms and with no compunction about slamming into his opponents in order to impose himself.
And when he does, it’s his adversaries who come off second best. On the wheelchair rugby court, Batt’s fierce competitive spirit stands out, a beacon of determination and domination.
It’s this that makes the Australian 23-year-old his sport’s most captivating player.
The Port Macquarie local, in London hoping to propel Australia to gold at the 2012 Paralympic Games, which start on August 29, is the lynchpin of his side, striking fear into opponents’ hearts wherever he plays.
Batt has no legs, but he’s not afraid to tip out of his chair and land on the ground if it means securing victory for the green and gold.
“I am an aggressive player,” Batt admits. “When I’m off court, I’m a nice guy, but when I’m on court, I’m just a totally different person. I just want to have the ball and be the most dominant player out there.”
It wasn’t always like this. Born without lower limbs, Batt resisted the use of a wheelchair for the first 12 years of his life, instead preferring to get around via prosthetic legs and a skateboard.
“I didn’t like the idea of being in a wheelchair, thought it was for ‘disabled’ people,” he remembers. “I was born like this, so I don’t really know what it was like to walk and I’ve adapted fine.”
A wheelchair rugby demonstration at his school piqued the then 12-year-old’s interest. He decided to abandon his prejudices and give it a go. Three years later he was representing his country at Athens.
“Getting into the sport was fantastic,” he says. “It opened a new life for me, to train everyday and keep motivated and know that you’re playing for your country in a sport is an unreal thing.”
While being the star in the Australian side, Batt is the first to admit he wasn’t in the best shape for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, where his team was beaten to gold by the US. There’s been no chance of shortcuts leading into London.
“Look, I don’t think I’ve trained as hard in my life as I have this year and I’m feeling good and I’m ready and I’m excited and mentally strong for it,” he says. “I can see the excitement of the younger players around the team and I just can’t wait for it to begin, actually.”
That’s good news for the Australians. In wheelchair basketball, each player has a classification, based on their disability. Batt is rated as a ‘high pointer’, his 3.5 points forming the bulk of the combined eight a team can field
at any one time.
However, his unparalleled power and manoeuvrability has attracted criticism, most notably from former Great Britain wheelchair rugby athlete Justin Frishberg.