Chris Bond: Steeled for more Games gold in Rio
CHRIS Bond takes pride in being a "big-game player".
The Brisbane-based 30-year-old played no small part in Australia's men's wheelchair rugby team securing its first Paralympic gold in 2012 and world championship title in 2014, outlasting heavyweights the United States and Canada.
And he's got his sights set on more success in Rio.
The Steelers will contest the gold-medal match tonight against the might of the world No.1-ranked US after beating Japan in the semi-final 63-57 and earlier topping their pool with a heart-stopping 63-62 win over arch rival Canada.
It took the courage and determination of Bond to ensure the Aussies snatched victory against the Canadians, smashing through the opposition defence and crossing to score in the dying seconds.
That's just the way Bond rolls.
"I love playing in massive games, putting everything I have on the line," he tells Australian Regional Media.
"It's something I try to do in every game for Australia, but there's just something about big games at world championships or Paralympics, you go above and beyond.
"With the Australian public behind you, it just gives you that lift that little bit more
Bond has built a reputation for coming away from "big" challenges victorious.
In 2005, he had faced his biggest, when cancer took him on ... and had thrown everything at him.
Then just 19, Bond was diagnosed with having a rare form of leukaemia. On top of that, he had contracted a flesh-eating bacterium during treatment that would spread through his entire body.
"It was definitely life- changing ... a massive shock to my life and everyone's around me," he said.
"The future was pretty uncertain for a while there.
"I consider myself pretty lucky to have survived."
With the infection developing into gangrene, doctors were forced to amputate both his legs below the knees, his left hand and four fingers on his right.
But, Bond wasn't going to let it beat him.
"Those first six months were pretty bad, as you'd expect," he said. "Healthy, active 19-year-old to be told you're going to lose bits and pieces and you'll never walk again.
"To be ignorant of people with disabilities and what that life would be like, I thought my world was over.
"But, coming through and meeting some other people in my situation ... every day just got a bit brighter, I guess."
Then living in Canberra, Bond had begun rehab weighing just 40kg after once being "80kg of muscle".
"Once I got out of that sickness stage and getting into rehabilitation, building my body back up to something I could identify with, it reignited me to want to do more and more.
"I've always been a competitor, pretty passionate. I've always loved sport and that's even shone through in the darkest of situations.
"You can change someone's exterior, but you can't change what's inside."
Bond admitted he did need a change of scenery from the hospital rehabilitation centre, however, as "there was just me and some 80-year-olds".
So he looked at alternatives and found the Australian Institute of Sport "pretty much next door".
"They helped me with a pathway to be able to train in a more elite environment and eventually find the sport of wheelchair rugby," he recalled. "That was definitely the sport for me and I haven't looked back."
Making his international debut in 2011, Bond quickly became an integral member of the Australian Steelers, who would beat Canada in both finals of the Paralympics in London and world championships in Denmark.
Bond is now a power- packed 100-gamer leading the Aussies' charge in Rio as one of their go-to guys for goals.
Now ranked No.2 in the world behind the US, the Steelers opened their campaign by beating Great Britain (53-51) and then the host nation, Brazil (72-45).
"No team has ever gone back-to-back at the Paralympics - that's a big drawcard for us," Bond said.
"These last two years, we've sort of had a bit of a change, tried a few new things.
"But I feel we're back to our best."
Originally called 'Murderball', wheelchair rugby is renowned for its brutal nature, but Bond says the game is also very tactical.
Each team fields four players with varying levels of functionality.
"You can make different line-ups based on those different classifications," says Bond, a maximum 3.5-point player, who is among the Steelers' main scoring options.
"It's quite tactical in who you put out ... using low pointers as good screens, blocks for us guys, managing our defence to be able to stop their main threats and get the ball into some hands that aren't quite as functional or as experienced."
Among those supporting Bond and the Steelers in Rio is Bond's long-term partner and wheelchair basketballer Bridie Kean.
Bond jokes that she has "mixed feelings" about that.
Kean, whose feet were amputated when she was just two due to meningococcal septicaemia, a blood infection, was a part of the Gliders women's basketball team that won gold for Australia in London 2012, but unfortunately the side failed to qualify for Rio.
"It was the first time they haven't done that ... She was pretty devastated," Bond says.
Kean is making do cheering on Bond from the sidelines as his biggest fan, among many that have been won over by his work both on and off the court.
Bond served as national vice-president of support organisation CanTeen, starting in the role when he was just 21, before now working for the Australian Sports Foundation.
"Going through that whole journey in hospital, overcoming cancer and everything that came with it ... I felt I learnt a lot from that experience and just wanted to share that, and give back to other people going through similar situations," says Bond, who was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal in 2014.
For now he'll be giving it to the Americans, and holding nothing back, in his quest for gold.
Gold medal match, Australia v United States 1.30am Monday (AEST)