Interview with Chris Barty – Australian Pararoo Goalkeeper

Crossover athletes have been all the rage recently, with athletes such as Karmichael Hunt and Israel Falou garnering large amounts of media attention. However over the past 18 months, one Western Australian athlete has made a changeover that is even more extreme than his professional counterparts.

Chris Barty, 23, has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy and in late 2010 began to make the transition from wheelchair basketball to football. He was an established member of the Perth Wheelcats in the National Wheelchair Basketball League, where he had won two championships. Barty had also played for the University of Arizona and had represented Australia at U23 level.

For those who don’t know, Paralympic Football is a sport for athletes with Cerebral Palsy, Acquired Brain Injury and victims of Stroke. The rules are based upon FIFA regulations with some minor alterations. It’s been existence since the late 1970s and there are now professional and semi-pro leagues in Europe. Australia formed a national team (The Pararoos) 1999, prior to the Sydney Paralympics where Australia competed due to its status as a host nation.

“Cerebral Palsy is a disability where you’re brain doesn’t quite send the right messages to your muscles and so that results in some motor control issues and muscle tightness amongst a few other bits and pieces. For me, I’m mostly affected in my legs,” Barty explained

After initially being hesitant to play the sport, Barty was encouraged by WA Paralympic Football Head Coach David Cantoni, to try his hand at goalkeeping.

“It took me a while to get really interested in football, but I found that I really enjoyed goalkeeping and I’m a competitive guy, so I wanted to learn as much as I could. Obviously coming from a sport where you don’t use your feet at all, meant that I had a fair bit of work to do,” he said.

To further develop his skills, Barty sought out Goalkeeping Centre of Excellence coach David Whalley for some expert coaching.

“I’m not sure what Dave thought when I first turned up to be honest, I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t even have football boots!”

“What I appreciated about working with Dave was that he was as interested in learning from me as I was in learning from him. As an athlete with a disability you’re always concerned that you’ll be put in the ‘too hard basket’ or left behind but I’ve never got the sense that I was being treated any differently He definitely works me just as hard as anyone else and always encourages me push myself.”

“Aside from my goalkeeping technique, I’ve definitely improved the strength and flexibility in my legs, which has had positive implications for my life beyond football as well, which is great.”

By April 2011, Barty had signed with Subiaco Amateur Football Club, won bronze at the national championships playing for Victoria and been brought into the national set-up, only to narrowly miss selection for the World Cup in Holland.

“As strange as it might sound, I felt like cementing a spot with Subi in the Sunday League was a bigger achievement for me last year than making the Australian squad. It was important to me to earn my spot and not be seen as a liability. I was training six times a week and I feel like towards the end of the season, I think I was starting to make a contribution to the team,” he said.

By the end of the year, Barty had been was rewarded for his efforts, winning a number of awards including the Coaches Award for his club side, Wheelchair Sports WA Breakthrough Athlete of the Year Award and the David Cantoni medal.

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