Steelers Captain Eyeing Triumphant Paris Swansong
It’s no coincidence that over the 13 years Chris Bond has been an Australian Steeler, the national wheelchair rugby team has scaled the sport’s greatest heights.
Bond has described himself as strong, purposeful and genuine. His teammates and opponents might add that he’s talented, driven and fiercely competitive.
“There’s always immense pressure,” Bond said, looking towards Paris 2024, his stated swansong in green and gold.
“We’re high performance athletes and high performance sport is cut-throat. We’ve got a goal in mind and that’s to win a gold medal.”
Guiding Australia to its third Paralympic success in four Games would be a fitting way for the 37-year-old father of two to finish his playing career.
In 2005, the keen rugby league player and Canberra Raiders fan became a quadruple amputee due to a severe bacterial infection and acute promyelocytic leukaemia.
“I’d just finished Year 12, was working out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “Literally within a matter of hours, I was feeling sick in my stomach, [we saw] the doctor, [went] straight to hospital and then going into an unknown surgery…
“I woke up a few days later after an induced coma with a completely different body. Very quickly it became a reality that this isn’t temporary, this is the rest of your life.”
Bond spent about three years in rehabilitation at Canberra Hospital before Steelers coach Brad Dubberley scouted him to get into wheelchair rugby.
“I went through my rehabilitation journey and there was just something missing in my life – and it was sport,” Bond said.
Within a year, Bond, classified as a 3.5-point player, made his national team debut at the 2011 Great Britain Cup in Cardiff. In 2012, at the Canada Cup, it became evident that he and established star player Ryley Batt could lead Australia to a new era of success.
Within four years, the Steelers had won two Paralympic titles and a World Championship. At Bond’s first Games, London 2012, the team went through the tournament undefeated to win its first gold medal. Two years later, in Denmark, they won their first world crown. Then, at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Bond featured in a contest widely regarded as the sport’s greatest, a pulsating 59-58 double-overtime win over the US in the decider at a packed Carioca Arena.
On an individual level, perhaps Bond’s greatest achievement was his pivotal role in lifting the Steelers off the canvas after a heartbreaking one-point loss to Japan in the 2018 World Championship final and a fourth placing at the Tokyo Paralympics, their lowest finish since 2004.
Accepting the captaincy before the 2022 World Championship, Bond and Dubberley orchestrated a cultural rebirth for the side that spurred its return to dominance, capped off with a 58-55 gold medal win over arch-rival the US.
“Representing my country was a childhood dream,” Bond said.
“After everything I’ve been through, being captain of the Australian team and leading them to a World Championship victory was pretty special.”
Special, too, would be a third Paralympic gold medal at Paris 2024.