What Coaching Wheelchair Basketball means to me

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Although only 5’7”, basketball is a major life passion. It’s more than a game and has taught me numerous life lessons helping to shape the person I am today.  I’ve been playing for more than 50 years and hope to play until I am no more.  Before I went to live in India in March 2009, I contacted the YMCA in New Delhi to determine if I could coach.  Throughout my three years in India (March 2009-Feb. 2012), every Saturday night I would coach a wide variety of people at different levels.  While in India I became familiar with wheelchair basketball through some friends in the States.  We ended up doing a project in two cities in India in November, 2011 through their NGO Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide (WAW).   While living in Nepal from June 2012-August 2016 I continued this by co-coaching the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team, training a number of young Nepali coaches, doing another project with WAW, this time in Kathmandu, and being an integral part of the very first wheelchair basketball league, Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League, in the country this past June. 

During this past Spring I contacted my friend Pete Hughes, who I had met in India through Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide, and who has been the coach for a number of years, of the University of Arizona Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team which is part of the Disability Resource Center.  (There are only five teams in the US at the women’s collegiate level). When I told Pete that I wanted to learn the intricacies of the game he invited me to be one of his assistant coaches.  I jumped at this and decided to leave Asia behind for now and moved to Tucson, Arizona at the end of September 2016.

This has been a tremendous life learning experience for me from being part of a collegiate team and waking up to early morning practices, 6:30-8:30 AM five mornings/week, traveling with athletes with a physical disability and uncovering the world of wheelchair basketball.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading and became certified to drive a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) and became a certified classifier.

We recently went to our first out of state tournament and played the University of Illinois who is coached by the gold medal Olympic Coach Stephanie Wheeler.   We played against the team from Whitewater, Wisconsin who hosted the tournament and also against a team of national members from Canada

As I’m discovering this is not only about winning basketball games.  It’s about athletes being able to perform at the highest level.  This is about building character, pushing oneself to “knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” (John Wooden).  This is about lessons such as how to get along with others and persistence in living in an “able bodied” world, which has put up multiple barriers to one’s accessibility.  This is about living one’s life to the fullest.

I realize that I have a lot more to learn in this “new” world; being back in the US after 7.5 years (I did visit annually) and learning to accept a very different reality from that I’ve grown accustomed to.  For me this life is all about opportunities, and thinking of dis(cover)abilities through sports.  I’ve seen the power of sports in other parts of the world and I see how wheelchair sports makes a difference in the US.  I think about my friend Jess Markt and his work through the International Red Cross and the difference that he has made in conflict torn countries such as Afghanistan and Gaza, through teaching wheelchair basketball.

There is always hope no matter what is going on politically in this world.  I am fortunate and blessed to see this every weekday morning at 6:30 AM on a basketball courts at the University of Arizona Recreation Center.  I may not always be fully awake but I do hear the balls bouncing and our team members counting out the number of layups which they have made. 

 

 

Position: Programme Manager

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