Australian Paralympian Ryley Batt: CrossFit Saved My Wheelchair Rugby Career

January 30, 2023 by
Photo credit: Louie Guerrero (@guerrerofamoso)
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Australian Ryley Batt’s record speaks for itself. He’s a five-time Paralympian, two-time Paralympic gold medalist and arguably one of the greatest wheelchair rugby players in the history of the sport. 

One month after bringing home gold at the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship, in October 2022, Batt made CrossFit history by competing alongside fellow adaptive CrossFit athletes in the first adaptive division showcase event to be held at the Down Under Championship, in Wollongong, Australia, in November 2022. 

Batt was eager to be involved when he heard that the Down Under Championship was to include an adaptive division showcase event. “I loved being on that competition floor,” shares Batt. “They (The Down Under Championship organizers) took a bit of a risk to be honest, throwing us into the mix, and it paid off.”

Batt’s interest in the event was not for the glory or the accolades as he explains: 

  • “If I can change just one life, some kid out there with a disability who thinks that their life might be over, and that they can’t do anything, and then they see me in a wheelchair or other people in the adaptive division doing stuff and overcome obstacles, having fun and getting people cheering them on while doing it, then mission accomplished.”

Why CrossFit?

How does the greatest wheelchair rugby player of all time end up competing at the Down Under Championship? “I discovered CrossFit when Covid hit (in early 2020),” Batt explains. “We couldn’t train as an Australian wheelchair rugby team; we couldn’t travel around the world playing internationally; I was really missing that competitive edge.”

Initially, Batt started incorporating CrossFit-style programming into his strength training, and he was instantly hooked. CrossFit filled a void for Batt when his wheelchair rugby career was at a standstill due to Australia’s strict Covid lockdowns and travel bans. Batt loved the competitive nature of CrossFit workouts and the challenge of mastering new skills. 

By the end of 2020, Batt had bought his own CrossFit affiliate North Brother CrossFit in Laurieton, Australia. Despite recently selling his affiliate, Batt’s passion and enthusiasm for CrossFit remains.

When CrossFit and Wheelchair Rugby Combine

CrossFit was more than simply a fun way to pass the time during the pandemic for Batt: 

  • “I think CrossFit saved my career in wheelchair rugby. I was getting very bored with the (traditional strength and conditioning) training. It was becoming very stagnant doing the same exercises week on week. My body wasn’t getting the strength. I was injured a lot, I was just mentally bored, and when I discovered CrossFit…it gave me this whole new love of training, and (I enjoyed) pushing my body to the limit.” 

CrossFit gave Batt the challenge of adapting his body in a way he hadn’t before, like mastering his first ring muscle-up, which is a major accomplishment for any CrossFitter, but even more so for Batt who is missing a couple of digits on each hand. “There’s no such thing as can’t for me,” shares Batt. 

Batt was also seeing and feeling the positive effect of his CrossFit training on the court. His traditional wheelchair rugby strength training lacked the explosive pulling power that deadlifts, cleans and snatches, all commonly used CrossFit movements, provided.

“I was never doing deadlifts in my (wheelchair rugby) training, so my back was constantly sore in a high-pressure game,” said Batt, who went from struggling to lift a 110 lbs (50kg) deadlift to pulling a massive 440lbs (200kg) deadlift within a 2 year period. More importantly, Batt’s back pain has completely gone, even when playing an intense wheelchair rugby game. “I’ve noticed the biggest results in my life doing CrossFit with wheelchair rugby,” reflects Batt. 

Batt’s Response to CrossFit’s Latest Changes to the Adaptive Divisions

As a 20-year Paralympic wheelchair rugby veteran, Batt has one of the most relevant perspectives on the updated eligibility standards that will be implemented for the 2023 CrossFit Games season.

“It’s a change that needed to be done,” Batt acknowledges:

  •  “Every Paralympic sport has a classification because everyone is completely different…. At the end of the day, we want it to be fair. We don’t want someone with the most function in a wheelchair to be able to use their legs. They might not be as fit as someone in the same category, but because they have more function, they’re going to smash them. I think it’s very great and all, and it will show in the results.”

What’s Next for Batt?

 “I’d love to make the (CrossFit) Games. Even if it’s just once, just to see that experience and take my family over there,” said Batt, in response to CrossFit’s invitation to all adaptive divisions to compete at the 2024 CrossFit Games.

 “Anything’s possible,” reflects Batt, who lives by this motto.

As much as Batt has aspirations to make it to the CrossFit Games, Batt has another major goal that he’s working towards currently. “Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will definitely be my last,” said Batt. “The focus is (the) Paris 2024 Paralympic Games where we’re going to give it an absolutely red hot crack to get another gold medal.”

When asked about the 2023 CrossFit Games season, Batt’s response was, “I’ll still be doing the Open.”

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