Growing up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Aaron Batchelor did not have the typical sporty childhood his friends had.
- He lost full use of his left arm during childhood after a bleed on the brain
- Batchelor has since discovered a skill in the cue sport of pool and wants to “go bigger”
- He is aiming to compete against the sport’s professionals in this year’s Sydney 8 Ball Masters
A bleed on the brain at age nine forced him to re-learn to move his body and walk again, but he never regained the full use of his left arm.
Now living in the small mining town of Muswellbrook in the New South Wales Upper Hunter, the 34-year-old has found a sport he loves: pool, and he has been on a mission to forge a career and inspire others like him into the game.
Left on the bench
Batchelor has always loved sport but found his teenage years disheartening.
He has no movement in his fingers and minimal movement in his elbow and shoulder.
“I’ve been let down a lot by coaches … as a teenager [I was told] I’m ‘too much of a risk’ [to play on teams with able-bodied players],” he said.
But a couple of years ago, he “picked up a pool cue, and now can’t put it down”.
These days he has been running a weekly pool night at the Railway Hotel in Muswellbrook, practicing a few times a week, and now wants to “go bigger” in the sport.
“My idea for this year is to head to Sydney in the 8 Ball Masters … [to take] on the best of the best,” he said, adding that he was yet to meet another player with disability.
“I just want to bring more disabled people into the sporting industry and pool. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
At a professional level, pool is separate to the similar cue sports of billiards and snooker, which have different rules and different sized tables.
Muswellbrook pool player Aaron Batchelor wants to go “up against the best of the best” in Sydney. (ABC Upper Hunter: Eliza Goetze)
Batchelor honed his skills watching his peers at the pub and professional players on YouTube.
“They make it look so easy. There’s a couple I want to play against. I don’t know how good I’d go against them, but you never know,” he said.
“You only have to have a couple of games to learn different moves, different tactics, how to cue, leave the ball, and it becomes easier the more you play.”
Batchelor uses the side wall of the pool table, and sometimes his left arm, to support the cue.
He said he preferred to try and avoid using jiggers and bridges in order to challenge himself, but many players around the world used tools that enabled, or assisted, them to play.
Cue sports in general are much more popular in the United States where the National Wheelchair PoolPlayers Association has hundreds of members.
Right now, there is no formal group for cue sport players with a disability in NSW.
But Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive, Mark Greerson, said it was “certainly a sport that lends itself to adaptation”.
A sport ‘anyone can play’
Among the pool community Batchelor said he feels at home.
“Everyone I play against supports me,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s been one negative comment about me or the way I play.”
That did not surprise 8 Ball Masters event director Stuart Rogers.
“We’re very inclusive [of] all walks of life. We have a couple of lads [with disabilities] who play in our tournaments,” he said.
“One gentleman lost his legs and plays in a wheelchair, so we accommodate him as best as we can … he does quite well.
“We have another gentleman with Asperger’s. He likes to wear his headphones and he’s very popular amongst the players.
“There’s a sense of encouragement for these people, to keep pushing themselves, and a lot of people have a lot of respect for them and give them kudos for turning up and having a go.”
Mr Rogers said he believed what makes pool so accessible is its universal quality.
“If you walk down the street, you could ask anyone, ‘Hey, have you ever played pool?’ and I guarantee nine out of 10 people would say ‘Yes’.”
Aaron Batchelor runs a weekly pool night at the Railway Hotel in Muswellbrook. (ABC Upper Hunter: Eliza Goetze)
Becoming a role model
As well as practising his skills, Batchelor has been coaching younger players in Muswellbrook.
“If I can help someone like myself succeed and become better, I’d be very grateful,” he said.
But living in a regional town with a disability means he Batchelor does not have the money typically required to kickstart a sporting career.
“I’m on the [disability] pension, and 90 per cent of that goes on rent,” he said, while his wife works to cover the rest of the family’s expenses.
Batchelor said he was now looking to raise money in his local community to cover the registration, trip to Sydney, uniform and a set of cues for the 8 Ball Masters.
“I’ve just challenged myself, ‘How good am I? Can I beat one of these professionals? Can I make them nervous?’,” he said.
And Batchelor said he is determined to succeed.
“My goal is to go down, get sponsors and don’t give up,” he said.
“I just want to … travel from Sydney to Melbourne, from state to state, and give them a taste of what it’s like to be me.”