Aaron with the GB Team at the Japan Para Championships 2018 (credit: Megumi Masuda)

The Big Interview: Aaron Phipps

Firstly, congratulations on selection for the 2019 European Championships. Ahead of the competition, how is the squad shaping up?

Thank you. Everyone is looking great, and full of confidence after winning the Four Nations tournament. Previously we had never won an international competition and came heartbreakingly close on so many occasions. So, to win in America, beating the home team along the way, shows just how far we have come. The bar has now been set, so it’s up to us to keep reaching it.

Tell us a bit about your journey. How did you get involved in wheelchair rugby?

It all started when I used to compete in wheelchair racing. I was approached by a couple of fellow racers who told me about rugby, a sport I had never heard of before. Because I love new experiences, I agreed to give it a go and I instantly fell in love. The contact, the speed and the team camaraderie were the main draws, but I also love how technical the sport is.

You were a member of the London 2012 squad. How has its legacy benefited your rugby career?

The sport grew massively! Before London, I had to drive hours to attend training sessions. However, the coverage we received was huge and meant wheelchair rugby reached a new audience. It was after London that Southampton’s Solent Sharks were formed. They were only 10 minutes down the road too! It’s incredible when you think about how much the sport has grown since 2012, and how it is still growing 7 years later!

In 2016 you famously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. How do you think that huge feat has impacted your sporting career?

It taught me what my true limits were. Now, when I encounter difficult situations I think back to the moment when I had to crawl on my hands and knees for 10 hours. I remember thinking “anything is possible” when I reached the top.

You regularly give talks and engage with different communities, what impact do you think this has on your audiences?

My main aim is to motivate people. I love working with kids and give a lot of school talks, their enthusiasm is fantastic. However, although I tailor each talk to each audience, the message is always the same. If I can get people to work harder and use my own experiences to inspire them to do so, then I have achieved my aim of social and community development.

Your strapline is ‘We All Have Choices’; can you explain its meaning?

I have always been about making ‘positive choices’. It doesn’t matter about the result; it matters more that you gave it a go in the first place. At the end of the day, if you aren’t on the court, you can’t score the try!

Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby has seen an influx of younger athletes, do you have any top tips to help further their careers?

Enjoy it! There is a lot to be said for just playing with a smile on your face. When I first started playing, I just played for fun, I didn’t even think about making it to the top. Enjoyment should be the core reason why anyone takes up a sport.

If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

I decided against playing sport until I was in my mid-20s. I so wish I had given it a go earlier! It’s important to just try different things, different sports and different life experiences. If somebody says, “Would you like to give this a go?” always say, “Yes!”

Aaron Phipps at the Japan Para Championships 2018 (credit: Megumi Masuda)

Moving on, how is the preparation going ahead of Tokyo 2020?

It’s hard work! As we speak, I am on my way for a strength and conditioning session at Southampton Solent University. In a few days, I will be back into another GB camp and then we have the Europeans. I love it though and if I make it to Tokyo, it will all be worth it.

If selected, are you looking forward to engaging with the community?

Big time! Last year, when we were competing in Japan, I was fortunate enough to speak at Samugawa Elementary school. It was a fantastic experience and the children loved wheelchair rugby! It would be awesome to do that again in October.

GB Wheelchair Rugby is in receipt of an award from the UK Sport Aspiration Fund, and my visits are a great opportunity for me to demonstrate the wider impact of Paralympic sport, hopefully I can share my story and inspire future generations. Recently, I had the privilege of working with the children and staff at Valence School in Kent. The highlight was seeing how much the children loved playing wheelchair rugby and hearing that they haven’t stopped talking about it!

Why do you think it is important people get involved in wheelchair rugby?

Like I mentioned earlier, the sport is continually growing in the UK. It means there are so many opportunities to shape how the sport grows further. I always tell people to get involved, because it doesn’t just help with somebody’s physical wellbeing but their mental health and overall individual development too.

If somebody can’t attend matches or training sessions but would love to be involved, how do you suggest they follow what’s going on within GBWR?

There are loads of ways! Social media is the big one, simply head over to Twitter and give @GBWRNews a follow. Most of the GB players are on there too, my handle is @AaronPhippsGBWR! It is a great way to become part of the community, we’re all very friendly!

Alternatively, if you’re a frequent Facebook user, visit /GBWheelchairRugby. There are incredible photographs, cool videos and the latest news from within this fantastic sport.