Pain a constant companion on Matt Ward’s road to Rio

MATT Ward lives with pain — it’s his constant companion.

Sometimes the 18-year-old lies in bed wondering why he can’t sleep before recognising his “old friend”.

Ward was born with just 10 per cent of his hip, with muscle mass taking up the role of the biggest ball and socket joint in the body.

It made running impossible and most sports impractical — but in the water it is a very different story.

Ward’s focus is the 100-metre breaststroke at the Paralympics in Rio next year.

If the 50 metres was on the program he would be a shoo-in, sitting well inside the qualifying demands of top 10 in the world, but he is just outside the 100m mark.

He is already part of the national youth squad — a shadow Paralympic team — undertaking training blocks at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Today Ward is being “internationally” qualified, a process that assesses his disability but more importantly allows him to race in competitions outside of Australia — Paralympics, Commonwealth, Pan Pacific Games.

But Ward said he just needed to get quicker and stronger.

“Rio is the aim at the moment,” he said.

“Thursday (today) I go to Sydney for international classification — they assess my disability and give me a classification, which is mandatory for competing internationally when it arises.

“Without that you can’t go to these major events.

“But I also need to meet the qualifying standards and then finish first or second at the nationals next year.

“My strength is the 50-metre breaststroke where I’m well inside the top 10 in the world and second in Australia in my classification, which would guarantee a spot on the team.

“But at Rio there is only the 100-metre breaststroke and I’m just outside the qualifying mark for that, about 16th.

“It’s simple really, I need to go faster.”

Ward has been swimming for six years, five of them competitively.

“Because of my hip it was always tough to do any sort of sport,” he said.

“But I started to swim just to keep fit.

“After my first year of swimming I made nationals, which was incredible.

“I came home with a silver and a bronze, second and third fastest in Australia for my events and it all just started rolling along from there.”

Ward is now part of a group of 20 potential Paralympic swimmers who train at the Australian Institute of Sport in regular blocks.

But he credits Border coach Bryan Craig as the architect of his success.

Ward trains eight times a week — most in the water, some in the gym.

“It is fantastic to be part of the training at the AIS — we go through about 12 sessions in a week, get filmed off the starting blocks and in the water and tested for various things,” he said.

“But I have been blessed to have Bryan, I wouldn’t have got as far as I have without him.”

Ward makes light of the pain of his disability, preferring to talk of the camaraderie of the multi-class athletes he competes with and against.

“In mainstream swimming you have eight strong, tall men behind the blocks and in most races they form this single line across the pool,” he said.

“But in multi-class swimming it is very different — the person who wins the race might be half your height, have no arms or legs and swim the race much slower than you.

“But it is judged on the level of disability and in some ways is a race against yourself.

“The multi-class allows you to meet people with unique personalities and incredible back stories — it is an inspiring experience.

“Swimming is just part of the adventure.”

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