Written by Lizzie Macaulay
Being more than a little vertically, and athletically, challenged, it’s not a sport I would necessarily associate myself with.
So what an interesting prospect it was to be invited along to play wheelchair basketball with the Fraser Coasters this month.
I was more than a little curious what it would be like, and after speaking with team coach, Michael Oxley to arrange my visit, that curiosity grew.
Michael spoke with me about the fact that this sport is one of the few reverse inclusionary sports going around. That, in fact, while it was designed for players with disabilities, all abilities are welcome.
When the day arrived, I was excited – I’d been telling everyone what I was about to do, and thinking about what it might be like fairly constantly.
Would it be scary and violent like I’d heard wheelchair rugby (or more colloquially, ‘murderball’) could be?
What if I embarrass myself and don’t do a good job?
And the quintessential question: what’s it like to be in a wheelchair?
I’d never sat in a wheelchair before, let alone propelled myself in one, so I’d anticipated the whole experience being quite difficult.
As is the way with this column, however, I was right, and I was wrong. More on that later, though.
Entering the building, Joy and I were greeted by Michael, who was setting up, and Corey and Henry – both players with impressive CVs.
Corey had played at the national level, and was kind enough to give me the lowdown on the fundamentals.
I tried to keep up – that guy knows his stuff…
What I retained is this:
- There are four categories of disabled player, depending on the nature and severity of their disability.
- The wheelchairs are specially designed for maximum manoeuvrability (and crash-into-ability).
- The rules are pretty much the same as ‘normal’ basketball, except for the way the ball moves around the court.
- The Fraser Coast has a growing group of players that are competing, and excelling, at a state and national level.
As more players filtered in to begin the training session, my shyness started to tug at me, and I contemplated running back out the door.
But you can’t have adventures if you don’t try new things, so I climbed aboard my chair and wheeled to the starting line for the first drill.
This drill, for a complete novice like me, was the sporting equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy.
Bounce the ball – push the chair – catch the ball – repeat.
Still trying to figure out how to steer, this took some perseverance and generally setting my pride aside to surrender to the fact I wasn’t a wheelchair basketball genius yet.
As afternoon turned to evening, we continued with a bunch of drills and I got to know more of the players by name, and personality.
There was Ollie, the 12-year-old who may have been the youngest by a distance, but was totally adept and in his element.
There was Anita, who seemed to constantly be on the precipice of mischief. (And I loved her for it!)
Shelley, the crack shot.
And Jess, who was kind enough to let me shadow her and learn the ropes.
After a while, I noticed that I wasn’t quite as terrible as when I first started the session.
That wheeling around, and feeling the breeze in your face was actually quite freeing.
I imagined that it must be a beautiful feeling for players confined to wheelchairs to be able to move so quickly and with such dexterity.
The sport is frustrating and awkward at times, but tell you what, when I finally managed to ‘score’, you would probably have heard my squeals of delight all across the Fraser Coast.
And just like that, practice was over and the first match of the season was about to begin.
A basketball court has never looked bigger than the moment I realised we would be utilising every inch of it throughout the game.
The moment had come for me to apply everything I had learned in the prior hour, and not let my team down – or at least, try my best.
And try I did.
I had no idea of the rules (just like the able-bodied version), and my transgressions were very kindly, patiently overlooked by all the players.
I have honestly not had a better time playing team sports, ever.
The group was so incredibly welcoming, kind and accepting.
When the first quarter ended, it was time for me to head off and hand the game back to the fabulous people who didn’t need to be hampered by my novice skills a moment longer.
My arms were aching anyway from an evening well spent trying something completely new.
I’m absolutely delighted to have had the chance to try this incredible sport, and meet the wonderful people involved.
I had no idea what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised in every regard.
If you’re looking for a sense of community, to try something a bit different, to keep your heart rate up and your mind sharp, I’d strongly recommend giving wheelchair basketball a go.
If nothing else, you can come for the flashy pink shirt and stay for the fabulous company.