27 October 2016 – Led by their inspirational captain, Jared McIntyre, the Mustangs Wheelchair Rugby Club travels from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg this weekend, intent on capturing their first national title. They’re unbeaten this season and one more victory would do the trick for the Bloemfonteiners.
During his school days, McIntyre attended Saint Andrew’s and was a top national gymnast. Five years after matriculating, however, his life changed dramatically in December 2007 when he broke two vertebrae in a diving accident, which left him a quadriplegic, unable to even hold a knife and fork.
Introduction to wheelchair rugby
McIntyre, though, met the new challenges he faced head-on, but as a former nationally-ranked gymnast his competitive fires still burned hot. Then he was introduced to wheelchair rugby coach Victor Buitendag.
Recalling that first meeting, McIntyre said: “We were supposed to have a meeting for an hour and we ended up having a four-hour meeting!
“I got in his chair and the first time I sat in it I fell in love with the sport that I knew would become my passion.”
Jared McIntyre has represented South Africa in wheelchair rugby
The University of the Free State Disability Unit helped Jared to reach out to others with disabilities as he sought to put a wheelchair rugby team together. It began slowly, but in August 2011 he and Gillian van der Merwe (wheelchair rugby features men and women playing together) were asked to participate in the national league.
“We didn’t have a team, so Gillian and I went up to Pretoria and we played for the Johannesburg side, just so that we could start getting some game time,” McIntyre shared.
“I thought that was awesome!”
“The first game was quite intimidating. There was a guy from the East London Bullfrogs, who hit me so hard that I was knocked over. The moment I hit the floor, I thought that was awesome and I wanted to do it again! That’s how I fell in love with the sport.”
That same evening, the national coach Jaco Dorfling approached McIntyre to join the national squad. “I asked him if he was serious or kidding me. He told me he wanted me at the camp. I couldn’t believe it. I was really chuffed.”
In Bloemfontein, though, there were still serious challenges. McIntyre and Van der Merwe had drawn in a few more players, but the Mustangs didn’t have a training facility, so they arranged with Mimosa Mall to train on the mall’s rooftop.
“Each time, we had to get everyone to sign indemnity forms,” McIntyre said, “so my mom would drive all over Bloemfontein to everyone’s house to get them to sign the forms, because we had to hand them in before we could all play. Then they would give us parking tickets, and we would take the red and white tape and mark off part of the parking lot.”
Training began in June 2012 in the middle of the freezing winter, but the players persisted and two months later played their first tournament at Bobbies Park.
National league runners-up
In 2013, with the university now providing a training facility, the Mustangs, under the management of Jared’s father, Bruce, had their first full year of competition and finished second in the national league, with three-time British Paralympian, Troy Collins, helping them to the win that lifted the Mustangs into the runner-up spot.
The following year, 2014, the Mustangs finished third. Last year they were second, and now, in 2016, with national team players McIntyre and Musa Simelane in their ranks, they’re unbeaten and aiming to go one better and claim the national crown.
They will be interested spectators for one day in Johannesburg as Mandeville and Tuks do battle to decide which team will face the Mustangs for the title of South African champions.