EXCLUSIVE: Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby's David Ross - The 'Relentless Road' to the 2024 Paris Paralympics - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby’s David Ross – The ‘Relentless Road’ to the 2024 Paris Paralympics

The road to the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games is a relentless one for Great Britain’s Wheelchair Rugby team. With a crammed schedule of three full competitions across just a few short months, Team GB are taking part in tournaments across Denmark, Wales and Canada before then heading to France for this August’s games.

Team GB player David Ross has been at the forefront of the action, as he continues to push for a place at his first Paralympic Games. With two tournaments down and one to go, Ross is set for a return to the Canada Cup in June, which is the very same competition in which he made his Great Britain debut back in 2022, after a lengthy stint in and out of the academy pathway.

A dedicated Ulster fan, Ross grew up playing rugby union but had his world changed in a freak rugby accident. At just 18-years-old, Ross suffered a spinal injury in a ruck, as he was beginning his first year university studies of sports science. Ross was introduced to wheelchair rugby by a fellow hospital patient, and the Northern Irishman was instantly hooked by the disability contact sport.

Initially invited to train with Great Britain in 2015, Ross took great experience from the sessions as he continued to progress. Speaking exclusively to Ruck, Ross discussed his journey so far, and his undying will to succeed.

“I’ve been in and out of the squad for a while, I got my first opportunity, which could have been as early as 2015. I was very young, I was about 21. It was probably a bit too soon for me to be involved with that squad. But I think we (Team GB) needed a long list of more players, and I was one of the guys that was looked at as somebody who was quite young and new on the scene. Somebody of kind of my size and physical ability was something they were maybe quite interested in.”

Image Credit: Ulster Rugby

“Like I said, I was in and out of that squad a few times. To be honest, the one most overwhelming feeling when I made my debut, was probably relief. Which sounds strange, but whatever you kind of get in and out of the squad, and then you’re in the squad, but not making selections for tournaments, you start to question whether or not you can actually achieve it.

“I remember my Mum saying to me at one point, ‘do you think you’re flogging a dead horse here?’ At a time I said ‘absolutely not, I’m 100% sure I can achieve this’. But you know, at the same time you start asking questions of yourself like ‘am I going to achieve this? Can I do this?’ I certainly have questioned it, but I didn’t stop believing that I could. With a lot of hard work I finally made that GB debut and I’ve kicked on nicely since then.

“I’m building momentum. I’m probably at the point now where I’m playing the best rugby I’ve played in my career. So like I said, if I continue to work hard and do what I’m doing, hopefully I can add Paralympian to my resume come the end of the year.”

Image Credit: Horatio’s Garden Charity

However, the Belfast native was poised with a tough decision a few years into his career, as he continued to impress the GB coaches, but was hindered by having to fly out to Belfast time and again after short stints at the London training camps. At the time, the standard of wheelchair rugby was far higher in England than in Northern Ireland, which encouraged Ross to make the move to the UK capital, with the support of his coaches and family alongside him.

“I think that was the main conversation that had with the head coach. It was just before the World Championships in 2018. I’d been in and out of the squad quite a few times, I was actually for a spell, traveling from Belfast to the mainland to attend training camps, and literally flying in for them and staying for three, four or five days and flying back.

“I’d always do well, and always progress at the camp and pick things up, but then I’d be away from the team for a while, I’d be away from a higher level of training for a while, and then I’d come back. It was almost like, two steps forward, one step back every time.

“The conversation at that stage was ‘you’ve got the potential to do this. But you’re going to have to make the commitment to be in with a top level club and training with them more than once a week, and being around this higher level of player full-time. Otherwise, you’re probably never going to retain the information and practice the skills we’re teaching you.’

“So my brother, he moved to London when he was 18 for University, and he remained there for work, and still lives here. Now we’ve got a place together. So that’s kind of the conversations, it was like, ‘look, I want to give this a crack’.

“My brother, he was really accommodating to me and the idea. Obviously, he’s got his own life out here. He might not want his younger brother from back home coming in and crashing with him. But, he’s a great supporter, and always has been, and I’m lucky to have a tremendously supportive family.

“They did everything they could to help me transition into that next phase, of what was going to be my life choice to pursue this. So, I know that meant a great deal to me, that they were so supportive, and my brother was so accommodating. They made the move feel quite easy. All the lads at the club (London Wheelchair Rugby Club) were great, they are great friends to me. I was very welcomed. It’s been the move that allowed me to pursue this dream of being a Paralympian, and hopefully, we’ll get there by the end of the year.”

Ross’ goal for making his Paralympic debut is steadily coming in over the horizon. Commencing on August 29th with the final on September 2nd, the five-day competition will showcase the world’s top wheelchair rugby talents, with Great Britain eyeing up a historic accomplishment. After taking the top spot of the podium at the 2021 Tokyo Games, Team GB have the ultimate goal of becoming the first European nation to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals. Ross explained how this goal has seen a recent rise in training intensity, as competition heats up for places amongst the 12-player Paralympic squad.

“To be able to do that would put us right up there with, you know, one of the most successful Paralympic sides out there. So, it’s certainly, our goal is to retain the gold medal. We’re not showing up to take part, it’s always in every competition we go to, we go with the ambition of winning. But in the build up to any competition, you certainly feel intensity getting higher.

“Lads seem to have a bit more of a chip on their shoulders and that can come out at times. And certainly, as we get closer to each competition, there’s a rise in intensity within our training sessions. I expect that to continue, especially as we get closer to Paris. So, we all know what’s on the line. So, none of its personal. It’s a rugby court.

“You know, things will be said, things happen. But, as soon as our final whistle goes off the court, we’re back to being teammates again. So, there’s never anything personal in it. We’re all competitors at heart. So sometimes intensity rises, tempers flare, but it’s to be expected whenever we’re also driven towards what would be an incredible achievement of retaining a gold medal.”

Team GB’s hectic 2024 schedule has presented plenty of opportunities for players to put their name forward, and be in contention for the trip to Paris. Beginning back in March, the Great Britain side headed to Denmark for the Musholm Cup. This triple round-robin competition saw GB take on Denmark and the United States, for three fixtures against each side. GB won one match against both of their opponents, yet lost the additional two for a mixed bag of results.

After a brief turnaround back in the UK, Team GB then hosted the annual Quad Nations tournament out in Cardiff. The wheelchair rugby equivalent for ‘rugby’s greatest championship’, Team GB took on titans of the sport France, Japan and had yet another run-in with the United States.

“It’s tight for us because we didn’t have any training camps between the Quad Nations and the Musholm Cup. So, we got back from Denmark and we had 10 days, so it was pretty much rest, recover, and try to build yourself back up, ready to compete again. So the schedule is pretty relentless. I think we had one day together as a squad between the Musholm Cup and the Quad Nations.

“So whilst we learned a lot at Musholm,, we didn’t get a lot of time to practice it before going into our next competition. So we’ve got two training camps, between Quads and Canada. So, a bit more time to try and fine tune things. It’s a pretty busy schedule. Two weeks of the month we’re away for a full week training as a squad, and then we travel at the start of June it’s a hectic schedule. But hopefully, with these two training camps, we can make the most of them and build again upon what we did at Quads and take that into Canada.”

After a third-placed Musholm Cup finish, GB took home bronze medals from the 2024 Quad Nations. However, Ross is not overly concerned by the colour of the medals on the road to the Paralympics, with the only ones that matter in his eyes, being won in Paris this September.


“I think it’s just different structure of tournament, you know, that being like a Olympic structured tournament that year, the structure there is three group games. And if you win your group games, then you’re into a semi final and playing for a medal. So this tournament, you know, you could lose those first three games, and you’d still have a semi final, and you could go on to win the tournament.

“So USA were there. They only won one game, but they came away with silver. We won four and came away with bronze. So, I think it’s being a bit wise for the structure of the tournament, make sure we do rest our players, they are rotating lineups where we can early on, and making sure our key men and our key strike lineups are fresh and ready to go for the semis.

“But at the end of the day, we’re not overly concerned about the result of that tournament (quad nations). You know, a gold medal in the Quad Nations will mean nothing, if at the end of the year, if you win a medal at the Paralympics, that’s all anyone’s gonna speak about.
They’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, well. Yeah, they won the Gold medal at the Paralympics, but at the Quad Nations they came third, people aren’t going to care.

“So we’re looking at it from a performance basis. We had four really solid team performances, and four good wins. And then we learned a lot from the game we lost, that’s the important thing. We’ve got one more competition now between now and the Paralympics (Canada Cup). We’ll continue to look towards good performances. Because if your performances are good, the results will take care of themselves.

“So right now, I don’t think we need to be outcome focused, we need to be focused on the process, and making sure we’re doing all the right things that we win in Paris, because these results throughout the year, ultimately, they mean very little in the bigger picture. So our big focuses on Paris, I think we’re ticking along nicely towards that.”

The first team to win back to back Paralympic gold medals (1996 & 2000), the United States have long been a formidable opponent to face on the wheelchair rugby court. The old enemy from across the pond, Team GB finally toppled the US at the 2021 Tokyo Games, when Great Britain won the gold medal final 54-49. The rivalry has recently been rekindled throughout the Musholm Cup and Quad Nations, with additional meetings expected in British Colombia and Paris before the Summer is out. Ross praised the consistency of the Americans, in how they are always a tough opponent to crack.

“They’re always a really, really good team. I don’t think there’s been a Paralympics where they haven’t been on the podium. I don’t know if that facts correct (it is – 3 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze) but it feels that way. They’re always up there, they’re always in contention. And they’re going to be hungry.

Like, you know, the last few Paralympics, they’ve been silver medalists, so that’s a big chip on their shoulder, they want to show everybody they’re probably one of the most consistent teams in the world over time. Like, I said, to be constantly on the podium, every major competition, be it a World Cup, a world championship, the Paralympics, they’re always there and there abouts.

“It’s a real credit to them as a team. So getting the opportunity to play against them so much is certainly something that we relish. I think they’re currently the number one ranked team in the world. So those chances to play against quality sides are really something that we can take a lot from. But they’re always a very, very well drilled team.

“Stick to their patterns really well. And they put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They’re a hard team to play against. But these games against them that we’ve had recently, are really going to help us going forward. And you know, we might even see them again at the Canada Cup.”