World champion gives wheelchair basketball a push

At first glance, Patrick Anderson looks like any basketball player. He’s well over six-feet tall, clean-cut and clad in a warm-up…

At first glance, Patrick Anderson looks like any basketball player.

He’s well over six-feet tall, clean-cut and clad in a warm-up suit…

Then he takes off his legs and straps himself into a chair.

Even sitting, Anderson’s height is evident.

During a wheelchair basketball clinic at Vanier Secondary School on Saturday, Anderson powered through drills, throwing his chair around the court with alarming ease and fluidity.

Popping up on one wheel — extending his arm for the block.

He even gave a defender on her feet some trouble, deeking around with quick fakes and spins.

Anderson plays for the Canadian men’s team.

“We just had our world championships in July in Amsterdam, which we won,” he said.

“We’ve won three of the last four major championships, going back to the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000.

“We’re the best in the world, and the women’s team is on top as well,” he added. “Both teams will be going to Beijing in 2008 as favourites.”

Wheelchair basketball might not have a large profile in the Yukon, but after Anderson’s whirlwind tour of schools last week it is definitely on the rise.

The Vancouver-based Anderson came to talk up the game, and open young minds to an inspiring story.

“My story, and a lot of people with disabilities’ stories are pretty attention-getting,” said Anderson.

“I was hit by a drunk driver and lost my legs when I was nine.

“I get past that pretty quick, when I’m talking to them, and focus on the now: I’m playing basketball, and it’s opened up a lot of doors for me, travelling the world.

“Then I get in my chair and I show them some of the things I can do, and that kind of seals it.”

“It’s not dwelling on any kind of prepackaged message, it’s just seeing that people with disabilities are just people, setting goals and achieving them, sports or whatever.”

Anderson recently returned to Canada after playing professionally in Germany for three years.

The Yukon Society Towards Accessible Recreation and Sport (Yukon STARS) and its president Ramesh Ferris are responsible for bringing Anderson to the Yukon.

“I want coaches, volunteers and athletes to realize how far they can go in the sport,” said Ferris.

“It’s not a slow sport, it’s competitive — and he’s a stellar role model for people of any sport.”

Anderson visited schools in Whitehorse, Carcross and Old Crow, as part of the Canada Games community program.

Wheelchair basketball is an event in the Canada Winter Games, and will be held at Porter Creek Secondary School during the second week of the Games.

Although Yukon STARS has been running a wheelchair basketball program for the last five years, there isn’t a large enough pool of players to field a Yukon team in the Games competition.

However, hosting the competition can’t help but bring more support for the sport in the territory, said Ferris.

“I think it will confirm what we’ve been doing for the last five years.

“In the last month I’ve had four calls to come to schools and teach wheelchair basketball.”

One of Yukon STARS’s big goals is to change the way schools deliver physical education.

“I’d like to see an adaptive wheelchair recreation component in all of the physical education classes in the territory,” said Ferris, who had polio in his infancy, and now walks with braces and a crutch.

“I was the kid that was always sent to the library, or sent home early.”

Yukon STARS’s wheelchair basketball is open to people of any ability, “that’s what our program is about,” said Ferris.

“Recreation is a fundamental tool to engage people, it doesn’t matter if you have a physical disability, a cognitive disability, or no disability, or if you’ve been in a motor vehicle accident or you’ve had knee surgery — we all can come together and participate in active living.”

Even elite athletes like Anderson concur. “There’s only a handful of countries that allow able-bodied players to play at the highest level — Canada does, Germany does — we really believe in equal accessibility.”

“When I get in a wheelchair, and you get in a wheelchair — it’s a great equalizer, a level playing field, and may the best man win.”