“Going into the Olympic stadium at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta … it wasn’t the best Games, but I was a rookie and thinking back to it, even now, it still gives me the goosebumps.”
This year marks the 22nd year of Alan Ash’s wheelchair rugby career, and he is still as motivated as he was at the age of 18.
The now 40-year-old Great Britain captain will lead the No. 4 team in the world into the IWRF European Wheelchair Rugby Championships that will run from 12-17 August in Antwerp, Belgium.
“As a veteran of the sport you get used to playing, but leading the team out this time around adds an extra spice,” Ash said as he prepares for the biggest tournament on the European wheelchair rugby calendar.
“I am responsible for the whole team and that is something that I haven’t felt before in my career.”
Ash’s first major event, the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, as well as the Sydney 2000 Games, are the two events he holds very close to heart.
“Going into the Olympic stadium at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta … it wasn’t the best Games, but I was a rookie and thinking back to it, even now, it still gives me the goosebumps,” he said.
“And then to add to that Sydney 2000, just being there with all the other athletes beforehand and anticipating that feeling of competing in another Paralympics was special.”
The veteran captain will be hoping that this European campaign will be equally as special.
Ash’s preparation for Antwerp has been quite different to every other major tournament he has competed in with most of the focus being on the young crop of players in the squad.
“I have concentrated less on myself, and more on them, trying to help them break that barrier and to be prepared and get to competition level,” he said.
Great Britain’s lineup for the Europeans is a mix of experienced players and rookies which is important for any team to ensure there is depth for future years.
Ash believes European Championship debutant Chris Ryan has what it takes to beome an elite wheelchair rugby athlete.
“I can see him being a future captain,” he said. “He has the ability and the vision and he is definitely one that stands out. Ian see him going a long way in a short time.”
But it won’t be that easy to budge the veteran from his role as leader.
“I still want to be the first player in the team sheet and when you are competing against people half your age that isn’t easy, but it is a motivation for me,” Ash said. “The challenge of keeping younger players out of the team motivates me to work hard.”
Great Britain will be in Pool A at the European Championships, along with Belgium, Germany, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
They will face Austria in their first game of the tournament on 13 August.