Denmark’s Peters finds his place with wheelchair rugby after life-changing injury

Mark Peters helped Denmark make their Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games and was a member of the team that impressed the home crowd at the 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in October 12 Dec 2022
A male wheelchair rugby player carries the ball during a game
Peters joined the national team in 2015 and has played an important role on the team since then.
ⒸLars Møller for Parasport Danmark
By Ayano Shimizu | For the IPC

Wheelchair rugby is more than a pastime for Mark Peters. The Danish player credits the team sport with helping him find his place in the world after he lost his legs because of a landmine explosion when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a soldier.

Since becoming a member of the national team in 2015, Peters helped the squad make their Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games and most recently, excited the home crowds at the 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Vejle.

“My life has been interesting, I would call it. I have been playing all over the world and also meeting some new people, which is great,” Peters said. “Rugby has made me find my place because this is something that I like and love, and I train so hard for it.”

Denmark finished fourth at the 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Vejle. @Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark

A second that changed a life

Peters, an army veteran, stepped on an improvised explosive device during his service in Afghanistan in 2009. Carrying heavy equipment while patrolling near a river, he walked into a ditch where the device was hidden instead of jumping over it.

His initial impression after the explosion was that his legs looked fine and that he would be able to recover in a few weeks. But later he found out that the bones were shattered.

“I was actually thinking when I looked at myself – three weeks, I’m good to go in three weeks. It’s just going to take some stitches and then I’m good,” Peters recalled his thoughts before he became unconscious.

“I (woke) up five days later in a Danish hospital, and that’s when I realised what had happened. I was surprised that my entire left leg was gone. I didn’t expect that to happen because I was pretty sure that I will be back in a couple of weeks.”

Once he recovered physically, Peters was faced with a lot of mental obstacles. He thought about the challenges that come with suddenly losing one's legs and “what do I need to do to survive and make it through every day".

“What about work? Can I get work? How am I going to be in the future?” Peters said of his thoughts during the recovery period. “And it took some years, just taking one day at a time.”

Finding wheelchair rugby

Peters tried several sports, including wheelchair rugby, and received call-ups from coaches. He did not think about starting any sports at the time, however, saying “I was physically healed but mentally I wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t ready to commit to something. Something that big.”

It was five years after his injury that Peters made up his mind to try wheelchair rugby again and play at the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014. He competed at the Copper Box Arena, one of the venues of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

While his playing time was limited, Peters enjoyed competing and playing in front of a packed crowd when Denmark faced hosts Great Britain.

“We won the bronze medal in the first Invictus, which was actually really fun. And after that I thought, ‘Yes, I’m ready to commit to the sport'," Peters said.

Peters said he enjoyed playing wheelchair rugby even more after learning the tactics of the game. @Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark

He called the coach of the Danish national team to say he is ready to play and has remained committed to the sport since then.

“My first impression was that it was fun to play, but I didn’t know anything about tactics or technique and I was just going up and down the court,” Peters said. “When I learned that there are so many tactics, there is so much you need to know about rugby, then it actually became more fun.”

Playing on the big stage

Denmark made their Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where they finished seventh in an eight-team field. Aside from their results on paper, the Danish squad showed great promise, beating defending champions Australia in the group stage.

“We qualified and we were jumping up and down and said, ‘How did we do this?’ It’s awesome just to go out and play, and everybody knows that the Paralympics are special so everybody is playing 120 percent all of the time," Peters said. 

“So we love the experience, we hate the results,” he added. “But we want that again. We want to be at the Paralympics again. We think we can do that with the team.”

One year since Tokyo 2020, Team Denmark have already shown improvement. In October, they finished fourth at the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship, which featured 12 top teams.

“People say we are amateurs, but we train and play as elite players,” said Peters, who works at a logistics company. “It’s more fun to have a rugby career on the side. I’m having so much fun, playing my sport and also combining (it) with work.”