Disabled Sport Not Easy

Published Friday, April 17, 2009

When Stephanie Park was eight she was invited to attend a sports camp put on by BC Wheelchair Sports. During the camp Stephanie tried several adaptive sports but it was wheelchair basketball that caught, and kept, her interest.

Wheelchair basketball was created in 1945 as a form of therapy for disabled veterans. Within ten years the game took on a more competitive atmosphere and it now ranges from community level programs to teams at the Paralympics. Currently wheelchair basketball has the highest amount of participation of all wheelchair sports.

After the camp Stephanie joined a junior program in Surrey. Stephanie learned the skills of the game in Surrey and after five years graduated onto the next level, playing with the Canadian National team at the New Westminster Douglas College. “I practice with them and they have a city league program which is divided into three teams and we just keep playing each other.” In addition to playing in New Westminster Stephanie plays at the Pitt Meadows Rec Centre. Stephanie and her dad, who is the coach, are hoping to make the sport available for anyone over the age of ten who wants to try. “We want to get as many people as possible out.” On Tuesday nights from 5-6:30pm they “have sports wheelchairs that people can use; and not just people with disabilities can play but able bodied people can play if they want to. We have able bodied kids playing with us right now.”

In wheelchair basketball a sports wheelchair is used. Stephanie explains “the wheels are cambered, they’re tipped outwards, which makes it easier for turning and it moves quicker, they’re much lighter than a regular chair.” Stephanie has been renting a chair but recently BC Wheelchair Sports received funding for Stephanie to get her own chair.

Stephanie was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that affects the spinal column. Spina Bifida literally means ‘split spine’; it is when there is a fault in the development of the spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) which leaves a gap or split in the spine. Most people with spina bifida have some degree of paralysis, usually in the lower body, and need wheelchairs or other aids to get around. The nature of the paralysis depends on the location and severity of the lesion in the spine.

Stephanie remembers “when I was younger it was a lot more difficult than now because all the kids were out playing and I could try to play but for the most part but there were things that I just couldn’t do, so they were out playing hockey on the street and I couldn’t do that.” The tables have turned and now Stephanie is not only playing with other athletes but she has kids who are watching her hoping to try what she does. “For the past two years, in grade eight and nine, I did a demo in my PE class. BC Wheelchair Sports gave us ten chairs and we did it at school. Some kids say ‘oh I think that will be so much easier’ and it’s not.”

Stephanie enjoys the opportunity to have others play the sport she loves and to realize that it is not only fun but demanding. “There was a lot of shrieking because it was an all girls class. They were all like ‘oh my god’ because they were about to crash because they didn’t have control of the chair. They were really surprised by how difficult it really is.”

For more information about the Pitt Meadows team contact Petra Frederick from Parks and Leisure Services at (604) 467 7355.