Calling The Shots In Life With Wheelchair Basketball

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Singaporean parathlete Emilio Choo loves wheelchair basketball. 

Stumbling upon wheelchair basketball

When Emilio was learning how to drive a hand­controlled car, the person in ­charge of wheelchair basketball noticed that Emilio was “young and mobile”, and told him he was suitable for the sport. He had always been a fan of team sports, playing soccer and basketball long before a spinal injury 14 years ago left him paralysed from the waist down. “A team complements each other. You can be good at something but no one is perfect. A team can cover your shortfalls,” he said.

But he didn’t think that he would be able to continue playing sports – or achieve anything significant – after his injury. “To be independent is a big enough accomplishment. For a year I even thought, that’s the end of it and I would be bedridden for life. But to be out here and doing something [at] the ASEAN Para Games [in December 2015]… I never thought I would be able to represent the nation in any way at all.”

Challenging yourself to push further

man on basketball court

Being active can mean different things for different people. For some, it can be a way to meet new people. For others, it’s a way to improve their health – both physically and mentally. For people with disabilities, sports can also serve as a way to empower themselves. Emilio thinks that trying a new sport encourages people with disabilities to get out of their physical and mental comfort zones.

“I know it’s tough initially – I went through it – there’s no need to rush. But I really think sports and interaction can help you overcome all challenges. Even if you have a family that’s encouraging and providing you with help, there’s nothing better than being independent. By coming out and meeting people in similar situations, you can gain the confidence to improve your life.”

Although Emilio went through a bout of depression after his injury, he feels his mental health improved greatly with the help of his teammates.

“Hanging around [my teammates] helped me a lot because they went through the same things and had good advice for me. They also made me feel that there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair. We joke about it, we say things like ‘why your hands so short’ and ‘jelly legs’. We laugh at each other. Those kind of things help you accept who you are.”

Since becoming a wheelchair athlete, Emilio has had his fair share of physical and psychological challenges. For example, he has had to shift his perceptions of fitness. While as an able­-bodied athlete, he was more concerned with stamina, his priorities now are his upper body strength and balance.

A new game with new challenges

“In the past, I was tall. So it was easier for me to play basketball. I didn’t even need to jump, I just had to lift slightly and I was taller than everyone else. But now I have to learn to do things differently. For me, because of my disability I don’t have much balance on the chair. I have to learn to shoot from a wheelchair and to get my balance, [I have] to strap myself down.”

His favourite part of being on a team is being able to build on the strength of others and to know that he can always count on their support. Each player has a specific role to play to the best of their abilities, which enables them to support one another on and off the court.“At the ASEAN Para Games, even though I took most of the shots, I would not have been able to do so without my teammates. They gave me good positions, and gave me the ball to shoot.”

As for the value of sports in his life, Emilio counts “a fighting spirit” as the best dividend from investing himself in wheelchair basketball.

“Even when the odds are down, don’t give up. Like life, you have to try and try. You cannot get things right from the start, so you have to practise to get the perfect shot."

Emilio is predictably wistful about the importance of his team in his life. “My teammates, I have been playing with them for 13 years. They are [not only] my teammates, but also my mentors. They taught me a lot in life.” For him, basketball isn’t just an opportunity to regain physical, but also emotional strength. It has been a way to regain his independence and self­confidence to call his own shots in life. “Someone told me this: you might miss a shot if you’re not good. But if you don’t even try to make a shot it will never even get in.”

If you’re a newcomer or beginner to wheelchair basketball, but curious and game for an aggressive sport and working as a team, give it a shot! “Be daring, don’t be afraid. If you keep trying, we’ll support each other.”

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