Matt McShane pushes for gold at Tokyo Paralympics

Maggie Gray | August 18, 2021

Image credit: Griffith University

Gold Coaster and sports-mad teenager Matt McShane, was just 18 years old when his life changed forever.

The automotive apprentice acquired transverse myelitis, a neurological condition causing inflammation of the spinal cord. The next nine months were spent in hospital and rehabilitation, where Matt began adjusting to life in a wheelchair. Just two months after being discharged, Matt decided to give wheelchair basketball a spin. Before long, and with the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in sight, Matt had established himself as one of the greatest emerging players of his classification in the world.

How does it feel to be prepping to head to your second Paralympic Games?
MM: It’s been a strange year, but it’s actually starting to feel real. It’s sort of snuck up on us but it’s super exciting!

How did you first hear about the wheelchair basketball community on the Gold Coast?
MM: Someone told me there was a basketball program on the Gold Coast, whilst I was in hospital in the spinal unit in Brisbane. As soon as I got out of hospital, got my car fitted with hand controls, and got the courage to rock up and see what it was about, I jumped straight into it – it was awesome. It’s a really cool community to be a part of. There were lots of different ages and abilities and people that have been through the same stuff that I was going through. It was really important for me at the start.

How much of a role did sport play in your rehabilitation process?
MM: It was huge. It was by far the best thing I did. At the start it was probably just to exercise and get stronger and get used to being in a chair. That was hugely beneficial for me. Then it was all those other things that I didn’t think of at the time, like connecting with other people that have been through the same things I have, teaching me tips and tricks about navigating gutters and stairs that I might have to come across – that side of it was really awesome.

What’s your favourite thing about wheelchair basketball?
MM: That’s a tough one. I love being part of a team sport. Everyone has a different role – it’s a really cool dynamic.

How often do you train?
MM: I train 6 days a week. At the moment all our training is based at the Carrara Indoor Sports Stadium on the Gold Coast.

You’re a born and bred Gold Coaster – what’s your favourite thing about living here?
MM: When I’m trying to recruit people to come and live here, I always say it can be as busy as you want it to be or as chill as you want it to be. You can pick and choose depending on what mood you’re in. That’s what I love about it.


Image credit: Matt McShane

Image credit: Matt McShane

Image credit: Matt McShane

ow does wheelchair basketball work?
MM: In wheelchair basketball you’re classified in terms of your physical ability. It ranges from a 1.0 to a 4.5. For example, someone with minimal disability like a below knee amputee would be a 4.5, and someone like myself who has a couple of abs, half my core and nothing below – would be a 1.5. You can only play 14 points on the court at one time, so you’d have a combination of players with varying physical abilities which combined 14 points in total.

What’s your role in the team?
MM: Your role is dictated on your classification. My role is mostly defensive, and I work alongside the other players as a collective.

“It’s very much like a complicated game of chess.”

What’s something people don’t know about wheelchair basketball?
It’s classified as a non-contact sport, which is a horrible classification because there’s a lot of contact! You’ve just got to position your chair correctly so it’s not a foul. But you can use your chair very well physically to stop someone.

Where has wheelchair basketball taken you?
MM: It’s taken me places I never thought I’d ever get to which is exciting. Europe, Asia, and across Australia to name a few.


Matt with fiancé and fellow Tokyo 2020 Paralympian Ella Sabljak
Instagram: @e.sabss

Instagram: @e.sabss

Instagram: @e.sabss

How does it feel to be heading off to Tokyo with your fiancé – Ella
It’s awesome, she’s been working really hard for it. The women’s team unfortunately didn’t qualify for Rio in 2016, which was pretty heartbreaking for them. It’s been a long road for them to get back to where they need to be to finally qualify and make a Paralympics – it’s exciting.

Who is more competitive, you or Ella?
Probably me – in all the bad ways I guess!

Which sport are you most excited to watch?
Basketball! I always find new sports that I get excited about at the Paralympics. Things like Goalball. I’d never heard much about it, but I got really into it at Rio. I’ll also be watching the wheelchair rugby and athletics.

You’re studying industrial design at Griffith University – how did this come about?
I just finished! I was doing a trade before I was in a chair. Then when I was in a chair, I thought I really need to do something a bit smarter than physical labour. I did a TAFE course to get into uni and found industrial design. I just fell in love with it.

What can we find you doing in your spare time?
Besides training, I’d hopefully be at the beach with my two dogs – golden retriever cross poodles. Let them cause a muck and then hose them off afterwards. That’s the perfect way to relax.

What’s been your proudest moment as an athlete?
Getting selected for Rio was awesome. I went into that campaign just having a crack without any expectations. Obviously, I did well enough to get picked and even though the team didn’t do as well as we could have. I was still pretty chuffed with my work to make it that far. And then in 2018 after Rio, the team had a good hard look at themselves and we got to work. And we jumped up to third place at our world champs in 2018.

What’s next for you?
I think I’m going to try and make Paris – it’s a short turn around now with the Tokyo delay which is helpful. I think I’d like to have a crack at a third Paralympics, which would be awesome. Other than that, try and get a job, wheelchair basketball doesn’t pay enough!

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