What it means to play representative sport is not lost on 19-year-old Conor Tweedy.
He is debuting for the Queensland Cyclones against the best in the country – if not the world – in wheelchair rugby this weekend.
“I was really nervous before the [first] game, [with] all the build-up and stuff, seeing the crowds and the big stadium, but once I got on there it was alright,” he said.
Tweedy started playing the sport in 2018, just nine weeks after being injured in a scrum during a schoolboy rugby match while playing for his school, Gregory Terrace.
“I got a dislocation of my C4/5 vertebrae,” he explained.
Tweedy’s family has also played a big part in his recovery.
His mother is a physiotherapist and his father Sean has spent most of his life working alongside people with spinal injuries and severe disabilities.
Sean Tweedy also played rugby for Queensland, a milestone his son achieved on Friday for the first time at the National Wheelchair Rugby Championships on the Gold Coast.
“It’s pretty tough when you first start just ’cause you’re so bad at it,” the younger Tweedy said.
He is playing alongside veterans of the sport like Queensland captain and Paralympian Chris Bond.
Bond, who celebrated his 35th birthday on the opening day of competition, has represented Australia for the past decade.
“A lot of young kids dream, and it was my dream as well, growing up watching other people represent the country, saying, ‘I want to do that one day’,” Bond said.
He was raised playing rugby league alongside his twin brother as a winger, but at a young age was diagnosed with cancer and a rare bacterial infection.
“Without immunity, the infection took over and unfortunately, I lost both my legs, my left hand, and most of my fingers of my right hand as well,” Bond said.
“[I was] always in the backyard playing with my brother and pretending we were playing for Australia [so] when I was in hospital, I thought that was over.”
Rather than over, it marked a new beginning.
Bond was part of Australian wheelchair rugby team the Steelers who won gold at the 2016 Rio and 2012 London Paralympics.
This weekend’s championship is likely to be one of his final hit-outs before he travels to Tokyo for his third consecutive games.
Many of the Steelers team will be rivals this weekend on the Gold Coast, but fellow squad member Ryley Batt said it may be one of the last chances to compete before defending their title at the Tokyo Paralympics.
“This is huge for us, to make sure we’re building and we’re going to be on point at the right time — at the end of August, start of September,” Batt said.
Playing for the NSW Gladiators, Batt joked he was one of the sport’s veterans.
“I’ve been playing for 20 years so I’m definitely one of the old guys in wheelchair rugby, but it’s brought me so much in life — and it brings a lot of people so much in life,” he said.
It is players like Batt and Bond who Conor Tweedy looks up to and he admits he will be watching their journey from nationals to Tokyo very closely.
“Obviously the Paralympics would be huge, but one step at a time,” Tweedy said.
“I only just made the Queensland team so I guess I’ll see where it takes me.”