I play as a prop on the Oshawa Vikings Men’s Mixed Ability Rugby Team. I play this position because I am a bigger, stronger guy that is healthy, exercises a lot and even learns how to tackle some of the biggest guys to the ground without getting hurt.
Mixed Ability is a sports program where players with and without disabilities play together where everyone is included, where everyone is treated the same, and where everyone is welcome. Playing on the Oshawa Vikings makes me feel happy and excited because I can make friends from all over the world when we do international tours and so I find it’s very inclusive to people with special needs. I have never felt so included as they accept me like one of the guys too.
You see I have faced many barriers in sports growing up. The barriers that I faced playing sport were that I was never included on any sport team all because people around me in high school knew that I had a disability and I was never included into any tournaments, nor did I ever get picked to be on any any school sports teams. As I found out about leagues like Durham Region Challenger Baseball, Pickering Soccer Club, Oshawa Vikings Rugby Club, and Archery 2 You, people at those leagues started to include me and they even helped me better understand my accommodations, as well as my needs and wants too. Mixed Ability Sport helped remove those barriers and taught me the sky is the limit and nothing is impossible.
I have been playing rugby for three years now. I was able to represent my own country as I went to Cork, Ireland alongside with my teammates last summer and was able to participate in the IMART Tournament (International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament) in June of 2022. The following year this past May 2023, I was selected alongside with 4 other teammates from the Vikings to be a MARI (Mixed Ability Rugby Invitational) to play a select tournament in Belfast. The MARI team is by invite only and athletes from all over the world get picked to come together to form one team. We only had 2 days to practice and get to know each other before playing the big game. For IMART, our Mixed Ability team came in 2nd out of 24 other countries after only training contact for 6 months. We lost the MARI tournament to the Malone Tornadoes, but it was an incredible experience! I wrote a book about the IMART tournament called Mateo’s Mixed Ability Match and am now writing a second book called Mateo’s MARI Match about my experience on the MARI’s team.
IMART was fun because I enjoyed memorable moments, like making friends from other parts of the world, as well as chanting “ooh ahh, shoot the boot” multiple times after scoring my very first international try at the tournament. What happened was that I shot coke out of a game used dirty-rugby boot after scoring my very first game-winning try at the tournament. It is a real rugby tradition and I have never been able to experience this sort of stuff before. Being selected to the MARI’s team was an even bigger honour because it is by invitation only and you have to show that you have passion, commitment and like to help grow the game of rugby in order to be selected. For both tours I got to go to Ireland and that was also an experience in and of itself as I had never been to Ireland before.
My important message that I want to give to others who think they can’t play rugby is to get active, enjoy life, have fun, be healthy, and join a rugby team that is close to within your area so you can feel like that you are a part of a team. It will help your confidence and make you feel like you can achieve anything.