From wheelchair basketball to the Paralympic Games

Today ends the Olympic and Paralympic week in France. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to be involved, us too, in the development of paralympics. And what better than taking an interest in wheelchair basketball in order to democratize this sport ?

The rules retain most major rules of basketball, except for a few modifications: for example, “travelling” in wheelchair basketball occurs when the athlete touches their wheels more than twice after receiving the ball. The two teams play on a classic court with the same hoops, but this time, the players have disabilities, which are classified. Each player has a number of points between 1 and 4.5, depending on their functional abilities. The five players on the court may not exceed 14 points, which means that in each team we can find different disabilities with different roles.

It is with a certain pride that we present to you, not one but three international wheelchair basketball players. Abby Dunkin (3.5 points), winner with the United States of the Parapan American Games in Toronto winner of the Paralympic games in Rio in 2016 and of the U25 World championship in 2019. Rose Marie Hollermann (3.5 points) is also an american player. She won the Paralympic Games of 2016 with the United States too, she has two gold medals from the Parapan American Games and two U25 World CHampionships. Finally, Charlotte Moore (1 point), british paralympic player represented Great Britain during the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. She has a gold medal from the U25 World championship in 2015 and a silver medal from The World championship in 2018.

The three of them got the opportunity to play against each other, during the semi-final of the paralympic games of Rio in 2016. Even if Great Britain and Charlotte Moore did the best performance of all time for this country, the United States won the game and then, the final. Zoom on these women like no other, “pour ne plus jamais être Or-jeu!”.

In France, this is the Olympic and Paralympic week. What does it mean for you ? Do you think it is important to raise the public awareness about the Paralympics ?

AD : Olympic and Paralympic week is such a great opportunity to bring awareness and education about the games. The Paralympic movement has made great strides already, but there’s so much more that can be done. Adults and children with physical disabilities can watch these incredible athletes play and feel represented. The Para in Paralympics means ‘parallel’ alongside the Olympics. Paralympic athletes train just as hard, compete just as hard, and represent their respected countries in that same aspect.

What role does the female wheelchair basket have in the Olympic and Paralympic Games? In the United States ?

AD : Wheelchair Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the Paralympic Games. There are pro leagues in Europe that provide compensation for playing, whereas the United States does not offer any type of professional league. Although, we do have universities that do have their own collegiate teams. So university students can represent their school in wheelchair basketball, and earn a degree at the same time. Here in the United States, we’ve made great progress when it comes to awareness and education about the sport, but we have a long way to go.

Do you have the same advantages and benefits as the WNBA players ?

AD : Not at all. First and foremost, WNBA players don’t receive nearly enough compensation as they should. They’ve been the foundation of bringing attention to social issues that need to be addressed here in the United States. When it comes to female wheelchair basketball players, you don’t see a lot of major sponsorships, endorsements, and definitely not a large salary. Fighting for equal pay and partnering with bigger brands is hard enough as a female athlete, but even harder as a paralympic female athlete. But both female and male wheelchair basketball players have always voiced for what they believe in, and I take pride knowing that we have a platform that allows us to do that.

What would be your greatest pride as a basketball player ?

AD : Medals eventually collect dust, championships will become a memory, and jerseys will soon be forever hung up. As I retired less than a year ago from international competition, I can say the most thing I miss about the sport is the people. It’s the people that I’ve been able to train with, compete with, compete against, that made it all special. My greatest pride as a player would be the relationships from around the globe I’ve been so fortunate to build. It’s opened my eyes to new cultures, countries, and perspectives that are worth more than any gold medal.

In France, this is the Olympic and Paralympic week. What does it mean for you ? Do you think it is important to raise the public awareness about the Paralympics ?

MRH : One thing I am most proud of in my life is obtaining the title “Paralympian.” It’s an extremely meaningful thing to me and something I strive to represent well everyday. It’s extremely important to raise awareness about the Paralympics and the impact it can have on people’s lives. Athletes who compete in the Games have overcome some sort of tragedy in their life and strived past it. It’s not only a symbol of strength and perseverance, but also a reminder to everyone that life will always move forward.

Your achievements are impressive, but we don’t hear about you that much. How would you explain it ?

MRH : Unfortunately, the Paralympics don’t receive the same media exposure as the Olympics do. Most of the athletes that have made a name for themselves do so by promoting their brand on social media platforms. This is something that has to change within the United States and something I have seen improving in recent years.

Do you feel supported by the other american players ?

MRH : I am currently living and playing abroad in a Spanish Wheelchair Basketball league and we play games that are broadcasted every weekend. Week by week I am blown away by how many players from the US watch the games and send support. I especially feel a connection and bond with the other american players playing within the same league. The family away from home is something I am extremely grateful for.

How do people see your sport ? Are they curious, interested ?

MRH : It’s hard to step into a gym with wheelchair basketball being played and not be intrigued. The court smells like burnt rubber (from the wheels), the sound is overwhelming (from chairs colliding), and the energy is always high. It’s a fully inclusive sport; women and men playing together and a wide range of disabilities always represented. This parks an interest in most people when they watch the sport for the first time. But, it’s hard not to love something that is a combination of basketball and bumper cars (it’s a full contact sport).

In France, this is the Olympic and Paralympic week. What does it mean for you ? Do you think it is important to raise the public awareness about the Paralympics ?

CM : The Paralympics is a massive event and is always a really exciting time for me, and I think that raising the profile of the Paralympics is really important. I know that over here in England, after the London 2012 Olympic Games, that Channel 4 did an amazing job of raising the profile of the Paralympic Games with their advertising, such as posters being up saying “Thank you for the warm up” in the time after the Olympics before the Paralympics started. I also know that as a child growing up with a disability, I always loved watching the Paralympic Games and seeing elite athletes on the highest stage, and I found it so exciting to see.

Do you think it is normal to separate the Olympic and Paralympic Games ? Is it a form of sidelining for you ?

CM : I personally do not see this as a form of sidelining, as the Paralympics itself stands for “Parallel Olympics”. I see the Paralympics as just as important, and every single athlete there has their own challenges to face, as well as just being among the best athletes in the world. I think that the Paralympics as a whole has its own identity, and encompasses so many different journeys of every athlete that participates there.             I do think in some ways that having the Olympics and Paralympics together would be an amazing experience, but I think that this would be a logistical nightmare with the number of athletes that would all be in one place. I think issues could also be raised by this with the overlap of events, and people may prefer to see the larger names, so not all sports may get the equal chance to be showcased at this time.  

How would you explain that paralympians are always in the shadow of olympians ?

CM : I don’t necessarily think that Paralympians are in the shadow of olympians. I think there are a few things that divide, however, I do not think that one is always in the shadow of the other. In terms of with media, I do think that there is not as much representation in terms of Paralympians, but I think that some are now changing that narrative, such as Nike with including hands free trainers and including wheelchair basketball models in their displays. 

In another way, I think that in terms of the public, some may think that the Olympics are more relatable, such as those going out for weekly jogs as their exercise at the park may see themselves being able to relate to an olympic sprinter or long distance runner as opposed to a wheelchair racer because this is something they encountered before. Some Paralympains may not be seen as frequently, as they may not be able to train as much in public spaces, as they have to look at things like the paths available and wheelchair access, rather than always just going to the local park.

Do you consider that the wheelchair basket is not spectacular/attractive ? 

CM : This is definitely something that I would challenge as a wheelchair basketball athlete. I think that this is a really attractive sport for both able bodied people and disabled people alike. For those without a disability, or with, it is such as a fast paced and dynamic sport to see, the is also quite a physical game, with a lot going on! In terms of those with a disability, because of the classification system, it means that all the players on the floor will have a different disability and different limitations, but this shows that many different athletes come together to play this sport.

Funny questions :

Sports recognition/gratitude or media recognition/gratitude ?

AD : That’s a hard question. Of course both! Haha but if I had to go with one, it’d be media coverage. Media coverage with the perspective of I’d rather show who I am as a person than my accomplishments on the court.

MRH : The wheelchair basketball community is a small one, and because of this most of the people within are people I hold very close to my heart. Because of this I would choose sports recognition/gratitude. I hope to be remembered in my sport as someone who pushed the boundaries for females playing professionally and encouraged other women to follow.

Being media-covered in France or in your country ?

AD : France of course because why not ? I’ve always wanted to visit !

It’s always an honor to be covered by the media in any country, but I’m not sure if I have ever been covered by a French platform. So, this is really cool and probably the one I would pick. However, I am also grateful when I get the chance within the United States as well.

Proud and honored to have the opportunity to discuss, for our first international article, about wheelchair basketball. This is with a certain emotion that we were able to speak with these three athletes and we thank them. We hope that, with Or-jeu, the wheelchair basketball will be easiest to understand for you. Pour ne plus jamais être Or-jeu !

And you, what have you done for the olympic and paralympic week ?

Stay connected. Pour ne plus jamais être Or-jeu !

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