Wheelchair Basketball: THE WHEEL DEAL; Hoops, Thrills and Plenty of Spills on Show the World Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships Held a Few Surprises for Fraser Thomson
Byline: Fraser Thomson
Waiting for the captain of the Great Britain Under-23 wheelchair basketball team to arrive, it comes as something of a surprise when Terry Bywater walks into the room.
A moment's pause. Where's the wheelchair? And then a moment's shame follows the confusion. There was a just-discernible limp to his confident stride as he came to shake my hand.
Bywater simply smiles and says: 'A lot of people wonder that . . . 'where's the chair?' 'I was born with no fibula and tibia in my leg so they decided to amputate it when I was two byears old.'
The prosthetic that enables him to walk means Bywater is classified a 4.5 player on the court. The higher the rating, the lesser the disability.
Those players rated one - such as team-mate Emlyn Whittick - have the most severe disability, often complete paralysis from the waist down.
Other players may miss other limbs - hands, arms. Teams are allowed a maximum of 14 points on the court at any one time.
Bywater could, if he chose, play without a chair but it has never attracted him.
'I have never really been interested in able-bodied basketball.
'I was quite a canny footballer when I was younger, which is what led me into basketball. I found out I was never going to make it as a pro with a prosthetic leg, so that is why I came to wheelchair basketball.'
Bywater boasts an impressive CV. Capped 55 times, the forward-guard has won silver and bronze medals at world and European level for the juniors and seniors.
In Manchester this year, he nailed a three-point basket from the halfway line against Australia in the final of the Paralympic World Cup which GB went on to win gold in extra time. In June, he helped Britain win the silver medal in the European Championships in Belgium, where they lost by just two points to Italy in the final.
There is a public misconception about wheelchair basketball. It is full-on, high-contact stuff in which the spills, as players and their wheelchairs crash into each other, can be every bit as spectacular as the athleticism of the sport. It is not a place for shrinking violets.
Nor is it exclusive to men. The wheelchair basketball world is mixed-sex. Both the Netherlands and Australia boast women players in their sides at the World Junior Wheelchair Championships, which are approaching their climax at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena today.
Despite the age limit being 23 in these championships, Argentina sport a player who is just 11 years old. Gustavo Fernandez holds his own against the big boys of the game.
And it is a game for the tough. Injuries from collisions, though rare, are painful and players have to deal with crashes all the time with trapped fingers and hands being the main worry alongside the normal muscle strains and fatigue.
The skill levels, one could argue, are greater than that of able-bodied players. …