Hereford & Worcester

Paralympic ambitions at Worcester Wolves wheelchair basketball team

McAyla Johnston
Image caption McAyla Johnston said it was quite easy learning the sport

"Every time you come here and sit in the wheelchair, pick up a basketball, it just keeps you going."

McAyla Johnston, 15, was hit by a car in Worcester at the age of 11 in 2008, leaving her with a brain injury, memory loss, balance issues and a weaker left side.

She had to learn again how to walk, talk and eat.

Now her ambition is to take part in the next Paralympics in Rio in 2016, after being part of the significant growth of the Worcester Wolves wheelchair basketball team leading up to this year's Games.

Only four or five turned up when the club's Saturday morning wheelchair sessions started at the University of Worcester just over a year ago, but now about 30 attend.

McAyla said: "2016 is what keeps me going every day.

"Learning wheelchair basketball I think was quite easy at first... because it's pretty basic - spin wheels and bounce a basketball.

National champion

"The only hard bit I'd say was the shooting part, but that's like [the same] for anyone.

"I love it because you can get so much anger out of what's inside you."

McAyla, who was an Olympic torchbearer in her home city of Worcester, has also performed well in athletics, becoming a national shot put and national javelin disability sport champion.

But when mother Terri, 42, spotted a newspaper article about wheelchair basketball, it led to McAyla joining her local club last year.

Image caption Rick Powell said the sport has given him the chance to be "quite active"

And according to Glyn Harding, who helped to start wheelchair basketball at the Worcester Wolves club, publicity surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics has "definitely been a factor" in its growth in numbers.

He added: "I think the reason our club developed is people came and enjoyed it and told their mates.

"We're hoping we're going to get a few more. People will watch the Games on the television and hopefully they'll come along to us."

Another wheelchair basketball player, Rick Powell, lost his lower left leg in a landmine incident in southern Iraq while working for a private military contractor in 2008.

Mr Powell, 35, from Solihull in the West Midlands, has coached women's hockey at the university, but enjoys taking part in wheelchair basketball as he prepares to start training to become a paramedic.

He said: "It's kind of a sort of helplessness stage for about three or four months when I was pretty much bed bound.

"Basketball has given me the chance to sort of get back and be quite active, actually engaging in sport as opposed to just coaching and managing."

The Worcester players, using chairs designed for wheelchair basketball, will now play once a month in a West Midlands league against teams based in Bromsgrove in the county, Hereford and Gloucester.

It is hoped the club will then feature in national league wheelchair basketball action in the 2013/14 season.

And while they currently play at the University of Worcester's St John's sports centre, seating 500, they will go to the new 2,000-capacity Worcester Arena, which is due to open in January 2013.

Worcester Wolves director and co-founder Mick Donovan, who is also head of institute of sport and exercise science at the university, said: "In the design of the Worcester Arena there's been a clear focus on disability sport for wheelchair users.

"We've even got a large storage area for sports wheelchairs and street wheelchairs so the users can leave their street wheelchairs in there while they're using the sports facilities."

Meanwhile, using students who have an interest in coaching disabled athletes, a scheme involving the university and the club sees wheelchair basketball being promoted in schools.

Mr Harding, who is also a sports coaching science senior lecturer at the university, said: "We probably did 30 or 40 different schools over about a two-month period leading up to the summer holidays.

"It's a great leveller. Everybody can play wheelchair basketball.

"Able bodied kids will have empathy with disabled children, increased understanding, and it gives disabled children the chance to play a game they might not have played before."

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