Reporter Miranda looks to Paralympics with Bolton Bulls basketball team
10:10am Sunday 12th August 2012 in News
TRYING out a sport for the first time can spark a mixture of emotions, from excitement to confusion.
But working out how to use a wheelchair on top of taking in the rules of a new sport certainly created a challenge.
I carried out my final Olympic Dream with Bolton Bulls Wheelchair Basketball Club, who train at Smithills Sports Centre.
After many failed attempts at finding a sport I could excel in, I had a good feeling about basketball.
Having tried out the sport at high school and played goal shooter for various netball teams over the years, I thought basketball would be my best shot.
I had expected to try basketball while sitting in a wheelchair for only five minutes or so.
But the team, which was formed 30 years, was eager to throw me in the deep end and take part in training like other players. Always eager for a challenge, I was happy to oblige.
Wheelchair basketball and able-bodied basketball in the Paralympics and the Olympics differ only slightly.
Both varieties play on the same size court, both have nets positioned at the same height and both have 12 players in a squad, with five players from each team allowed on the court at any one time.
Points are scored by shooting the ball into the opponents’ basket. Two points are awarded for regular shots from open play, with a point for each successful free throw. Three points are awarded successful shots from a distance. Games are split into four 10- minute quarters and teams can call one-minute time outs. The clock stops for every break in play.
Men’s basketball was first introduced at the Olympics at the Berlin games in 1936, with the women’s event being introduced at Montreal in 1976. It was introduced at the Paralympics for men in 1960 and the women’s competition was introduced at the Tel Aviv 1968 games.
The key difference between the varieties is wheelchair basketball players are required to throw or bounce the ball after every two pushes of the wheels to avoid penalties for “travelling.”
Able-bodied players are not allowed to take more than two steps with the ball without dribbling.
I was shocked to discover the net was not lower for wheelchair basketball players. The height of the net immediately seemed to be more of a challenge than in the able-bodied game. To succeed in wheelchair basketball speed, stamina, a good aim and reasonable strength to throw the ball the extra height are essential.
After many attempts of travelling forward in the chair while dribbling the ball resulted in me doing complete 360 degrees turns, but I gradually got my head around using the chair and managed to score three baskets. I would like to think it was skill, but I think beginner’s luck is the most likely explanation.
Bolton Bulls players say the sport is beneficial for health and for some it has been a lifeline.
Michael Galligan, aged 30, hit rock bottom in 2009 after a relationship breakdown.
He turned to turned to alcohol, considered suicide and would not eat. He refused to leave the house but seeing a Twitter message advertising the club changed his life.
Michael said: “I was still in incredible pain, but I had to do something. It would either make me or break me. I went along.”
He is now free from alcohol and believes the club and the players’ support has helped him to turn his life around.
My dreams of becoming an Olympian may be fading away, but Bolton Bulls invited me to return to training as league teams are allowed one ablebodied player. I may take up their offer once the friction burns on my hands from the wheels heal.
● To get involved with Bolton Bulls visit boltonbulls.com