Paralympic debutant Kieran Flynn admits wheelchair rugby helped bring him back from the brink of a breakdown when he “ballooned up to 21 stone” and slipped into depression after breaking his neck.

The 32-year-old’s world was turned upside down by a severe spinal injury sustained being dropped on his head during a tip tackle while playing rugby union aged 21.

Sport enthusiast Flynn, who grew up with dreams of being a professional footballer for his beloved Liverpool and was also a keen golfer, was told he would never walk again.

He was originally reluctant to return to physical competition but, following “dark periods” adapting to his new circumstances, he is now preparing to help Great Britain defend their Paralympic title at Paris 2024.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without wheelchair rugby,” Flynn told the PA news agency, having been named in GB’s 12-man squad for the Games. “It’s become a central part of my life.

“Sport has been the key factor in coming out of those dark periods.

“I remember those frustrations really coming to a front at home where I almost had a breakdown.

“You do lose your independence but things do get easier and do get better.

“Following my injury, I ballooned up to 21 stone because I was eating and drinking all the wrong things and I guess, looking back, probably in a time of depression.

“Getting into sport, I lost over 10 stone and the benefits physically and mentally have been massive.”

With relatives also coming to terms with his life-changing injury, Crewe-born Flynn initially attempted to conceal his emotions.

“I probably didn’t open up enough,” he continued. “I was too scared of the grief that my family were dealing with, my friends were dealing with in terms of what had happened to me.

“It affected everybody so I didn’t want to unload. But just being around people with the same disability really helped.”

Flynn has been selected alongside Tokyo gold medallists Gavin Walker, Stuart Robinson, Jonathan Coggan, Nick Cummins, Aaron Phipps, Jack Smith and Jamie Stead, plus fellow Games newcomers Dan Kellett, Ollie Mangion, Tyler Walker and David Ross.

The Leicester Tigers player was captain of his country’s talent squad when ParalympicsGB topped the podium in Japan in 2021, cheering them on from home while awaiting a trial with the elite side.

The following year, he was part of the team which finished runners-up at the European Championships and seventh at the World Championships as he integrated into the set-up following the retirements of former skipper Chris Ryan and the influential Jim Roberts.

“It was daunting at first – I remember going to a session and thinking these guys are so quick, so fit and I can barely move a chair,” he said.

“Now, you’re racing around with them at full speed and it’s just a life-changing decision for me.

“I do everything every single day to be the best athlete I can be which takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of understanding from friends and family.

“Being selected for the Paralympics is the justification for that, in my eyes.

“It’s the creme de la creme, it’s probably what I’ve dreamt about since I’ve started the sport.

“To finally get to say I’m going to be a ParalympicsGB athlete is very, very special.”