By Abbie Johnston
You can listen to the blog post here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4ZTXxCcsWCKcB81oAneZGf?si=0fd8f71423d7427b
I was a very active child. I competed in triathlons, training five times a week: swimming on Monday and Wednesday, running on Tuesday and Friday and cycling on a weekend. I had boundless energy. My dad often tells a story from when I was around 8. After hiking 10 miles through the lake district, my dad and my uncle were exhausted but I was begging to go around again!
But then my world changed almost overnight when I never recovered from a simple illness. I became disabled – although it took me a long time, and discovering LUNA, to admit this (but that’s a whoooole other story). I could no longer bear to talk, or even think, about memories like the one above. The topic became ‘off limits’ within my family. Anytime anyone talked about my past self, I could feel myself recoiling inside. It was physically painful. A big part of myself was lost, and whilst I was slowly able to start new hobbies, it felt the hole might never be filled.
I thought I would never play sport again. That is until I went to university. Actually, the story starts a few before weeks before that. In early September 2022, just before I started university, I went to the Children’s Health Scotland Conference in Edinburgh with a few members of the LUNA team. One of those people was Beth, another LUNA Trustee, who just happened to know Jack, the president and coach of the newly formed Newcastle University wheelchair basketball team. Although I didn’t know this initially. Beth put me in touch with Jack and we had a very helpful phone call about what it’s like to be a wheelchair user at Newcastle University.
He then tried to convince me to come to the wheelchair basketball taster session. This had not been on my radar at all – remember I was still actively trying to avoid thinking about sport whatsoever. I hadn’t even considered that I might be able to play sport at university. So I told him that:
a) I would not be able to do it, and
b) I would not enjoy it.
But if you know Jack, you know he can be very convincing when he wants to be. So somehow, I did end up at that taster session. You can probably already see where this is going given the title of this blog. I loved it! And I didn’t feel as ill afterwards as I thought I would! Despite telling myself I was only going to that one taster session just to please Jack since he’d been so nice to me, I’ve never stopped going since.
But why do I love wheelchair basketball so much? Answer: so many reasons!
Firstly, it feels incredible to exercise and play sport again. One of my biggest strengths as a player is my speed. I love going fast in my chair, it feels like the closest I can get to running again. I had forgotten what that rush you get from exercising feels like, and its incredible. I feel like it’s started healing a part of me that I thought might never be healed. Even just writing this blog and be able to look at pictures of little me is MASSIVE progress.
Secondly, I’ve made so many friends through it. I love everyone on the team and meet up regularly outside of training with a number of them. We spend a lot of training sessions just chatting (usually to Jack’s annoyance) and it usually takes us a least 15 minutes to actually leave once training has finished because we’re just chatting. Having played mainly solitary sports before, playing as part of a team is really nice.
It has also improved my relationship with myself and my body. Before, it was very much me against my body. Now we’re more like a team. Rather than staying annoyed at all the things I can’t do, wheelchair basketball has taught me to think of solutions. How can I adapt this skill so that it works for my body? I used to subluxate or dislocate joints pretty frequently in the beginning (thanks EDS) but now it’s less common as I’ve found ways that work for me. And wheelchair basketball is a great sport for this: you can (and are encouraged to) adapt pretty much anything to make it work for your disability.
This is why parasports are SO important: it means so much to so many of the players just to be there. So finally, if there is a wheelchair basketball club near you (or just any parasport club really), go and give it a try, it might just change your life.