Wheels: Journeys through Paralympic Sport
Let me explain. I’d called Ruth Eytle, the London development officer for GB Wheelchair Basketball, because I’ve been looking for some help in getting my hands on a sports chair.
We went through the introductions – hi, how are you and all that – only for the call to be abruptly put on hold with a hurried “hang on, stay with me”.
The next thing I heard was her loudly calling out to a passer-by: “Hey, have you ever played wheelchair basketball?”
They answered in the negative. She then reeled off the details of a Saturday session she runs in Brixton before urging him to pitch up.
While the passer by was somewhat nonplussed, they did venture that they had fancied a crack but hadn’t any idea of where to find a session.
This happens a lot, but it’s Eytle’s mission to change it. She’s become (ahem) a sports mugger because she feels that if people are invited they’re more likely to attend than if they just see something in a leaflet or find it on the web.
Turning up on spec to anything can be horribly intimidating. I can testify to that. It took me a couple of years to summon up the confidence to start playing at clubs local to me (at Frentford, near Ilford, and at Romford where the Ravens play on a Thursday night) even though I’d written a piece on the sport and had a coaching session around the London 2012 Paralympics.
That, of course, had been arranged with the help of GBWB’s excellent press office and was part of my job. I procrastinated for months afterwards about carrying on recreationally.
Eytle, who crackles with confidence and enthusiasm but manages to do so while being approachable, is just the sort of person you’d want in her role.
She says inviting someone to an event puts a different slant on things. It makes them feel far more confident about turning up, which is why, if you’re out and about using a mobility aid and you catch her attention, you’ll be next.
“I often hear people saying they’ve always wanted to do it, but they’ve not idea how to go about it,” she says.
“They don’t know where to go, or what to expect. Sometimes if you approach them and talk to them about it, it gives them that prompt. They feel invited. I find it works really well. I haven’t had anyone turn me down out of hand yet!”
She’s particularly alive to getting all ages involved – and that includes those of us with a few grey hairs.
Part of what kept me away was the concern that I’d be a fish out of water, surrounded by fit teenagers and 20 somethings. However, that isn’t the case. All ages play, to the extent that one of our players – several years my senior – laughed and called me just a kid by comparison to him when I mentioned my earlier concerns.
Another hindrance to people getting involved, I would guess, is that outside of the Paralympics disability sport is all but invisible. It vanishes from newspapers and while you can see American College Lacrosse on our TV screens thanks to a plethora of specialist sports channels, elite disabled athletes from this country are still nowhere to be found.
This blog is an effort to help redress the balance.
It will chronicle my own experience in wheelchair basketball, highlight any events of note (world/UK championships and the like), and cover some of the big issues facing disability sports (classification, who should play, funding etc).
And it isn’t just basketball – I’ll also be featuring other sports such as wheelchair rugby, tennis and so on.
In the meantime, those who haven’t yet been accosted by Ruth on the streets of South London can e-mail her at email@example.com
That Brixton session is between 2pm ad 5pm on a Saturday, postcode SW9 8QQ. Others good for beginners she highlights are at the Black Prince community hub in Kennington, SE11 6AA on Monday 7.30pm – 9.30pm or at Hackney’s Space Leisure Centre N1 6HQ. The Romford YMCA hosts the Ravens on Thursday nights, 7.30pm, postcode RM7 0PH.Tagged in: GB Wheelchair Basketball, Romford Ravens
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