By Madolyn Sushames
Michael Dobbie-Bridges is a Paralympian, World Tennis champion, All-Australian AFL Wheelchair player and most importantly, a dad.
His two-and-a-half-year-old son, Harvey, turned to him recently while watching the AFL Wheelchair National Championships with a footy in his hand and said, ‘I want to play footy like you daddy”.
It’s a comment Michael will not likely forget.
“He doesn’t see the difference; he sees a football and a bunch of people trying to score goals and points and to him that’s footy,” Michael said.
“All the sports I play will always be different to the sports he plays so for him to make that comment made me pretty emotional.
“It means so much to me to see my son want to play footy and for him to see me play a game he can play.”
Michael was part of the push to bring Wheelchair AFL to Queensland this year.
It grew from a few come and try days, to a QClash between the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast SUNS and culminated in the National Championships in Melbourne last month where he was named in the All-Australian team alongside Queensland teammates Andrew Miller and Tristan Orchard.
“To get three All-Australian selections means we’re on the right track, we just need a bit more depth and experience,” he said.
“Hopefully over the next couple years we see the growth of the game and the opportunities it presents.”
While he may be coming to the end of his sporting career, Michael’s proud of the legacy he started through Wheelchair AFL.
“Some of my teammates will get to play nationals for the next 10 years and hopefully finish with 10 All-Australian and national titles,” he said.
“If you think about the next generational who are now six or seven, they’ll grow up having never not had the opportunity to play football.
“The kids who always had to sit on the sidelines and watch their brothers and sisters running out and playing will now have the same opportunities as their siblings.
“It’s pretty special, I think we’ll look back on this in 10 years’ time and see how the league has developed and the experiences people will get to have through playing, and we’ll all be pretty proud.”
This International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), Michael encourages people to stop and take a moment to celebrate the achievements and contributions people with a mental or physical disability have in our community.
“I think sometimes we get too stuck in needing things to be better and we miss the celebrations,” he said.
“We’ve had some big moments for people with disabilities this year and that’s worth celebrating.
“Whatever is it to you that’s worth celebrating, sing it from the rooftops and get behind it and the celebrations of others in the disability community!”
Michael became a paraplegic 21 years ago after breaking his back in a motorcycle crash.
During his rehab he did a lesson with the Australian Wheelchair Tennis coach.
“I told my parents three days after my accident I would become a Paralympian,” he said.
Michael went on to represent Australia at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and six World Cups in Wheelchair Tennis.
As a kid growing up in regional Victoria, he played every sport under the sun, including Aussie Rules.
“I loved playing footy and its competitive nature and now I get to complete in a game I grew up playing that I thought I’d never get to play again,” he said.
Michael is gearing up for an even bigger Wheelchair AFL season in Queensland next year and to hopefully go one better at next year’s National Championships.