Wheelchair basketball not as easy as it looks

Friday, August 9, 2013

Attempting to play wheelchair hoops as part of the two-year countdown to the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games, I rarely escaped mid-court.

My arms were numb, my mind spinning, as opponents whizzed by me in flashes of blue, carving their way to the basketball net on two wheels.

I couldn’t keep up. I tried, desperately, to manoeuvre my wheelchair like the pros – to be of some assistance to my team and play defence. Impossible.

Attempting to play wheelchair basketball as part of the two-year countdown to the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games, I rarely escaped mid-court.

By the time I wheeled myself toward our offensive zone, the ball was already heading back towards our net. I’d pivot and try to catch up, but would always arrive too late. The play would be dead. I was of no help.

LeBron James has got nothing on the talented athletes who make wheelchair basketball look easy. It’s not. It’s hard. Really hard. It may not be as flashy and fast-paced as the NBA, but it’s worthy of much more appreciation.

Just minuets into the game, my arms froze. I watched in awe as my opponent, Richard Peter, a three-time Paralympic gold medallist for Canada, dribbled, carved corners tighter than Kobe Bryant and led his team to a 13-6 win.

“Just use two hands to push your wheels,” he told me before the game. “It’s easy. You’ll get the hang of it.” The only thing I got the hang of was using one hand to pivot my chair. That way, at least I was facing the play.

Peter also said if I got a chance to shoot – he smiled while telling me this, like he knew it’d be an accomplishment in itself – I should roll into the shot, to help power it to the basket.

I got near Peter’s net once. I got one shot – it missed the entire net, an embarrassing air ball.

Peter’s wife Marni Abbott-Peter, also a three-time Paralympic gold medallist for Canada, captained my team and encouraged me during a break in play.

“You’re doing pretty good out there,” she said, also smiling. I knew that smile from Richard. I wasn’t doing well. “You had some takeaways and good passes,” she said.

That takeaway? A ball that almost smacked me in the face. Luckily my reflexes kicked in before it gave me a bloody nose and I caught the errant ball. But thanks, Marni.

Those passes? Made to teammates right next to me, as soon as the ball came my way so I didn’t have to struggle dribbling while pushing my chair. But thanks, Marni.

I smiled back at her as she continued, telling me, “No, no, really, you’re doing good.” OK, Marni, guess I could make the women’s national team then, right?

Her smile spread then. She patted me on the back and said, “Maybe in a couple years.”

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