Playing basketball in a wheelchair
WITH his left hand, 28-year-old Thet Cho Oo maneuvers his wheel chair and skillfully dribbles the ball with his right. Racing in his chair, he gets around the defence players and puts the ball through the hoop. Two more points for his team.
Thet Cho Oo sustained an injury to his spine while working at a gold mine in Tanai, Kachin State in 2011, leaving part of his lower body paralysed. Until last year, and for the past 6 years, he had been confined to bed, heavily relying on a caregiver to look after his body and minimise bed sores.
In 2017, hope flared up after he was admitted to the Physical Rehabilitation Centre run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In 2016, the 60-bed centre opened in Myitkyina, his native town. The centre focuses on restoring mobility for patients with disabilities by providing prostheses, orthoses and physiotherapy.
The centre restored Thet Cho Oo’s strength, dignity and independence. “I had been depressed in my bed for almost six years. I was too thin and weak. I couldn’t move without someone’s help. Once I received regular physiotherapy at the centre, I regained mobility in my upper body.” Thet Cho Oo said.
Last week, Thet Cho Oo even took part in a wheelchair basketball camp hosted in Yangon. About 18 players attended the five-day basketball camp at the Myanmar Paralympics Sport Federation in North Dagon from October 15 to 20. Four players, survivors of road and mine accidents as well aspolio from physical rehabilitation centres in Myitkyina and Kyaing Tong, run by the International Committee of the Red Cross and in Hpa-an by the Myanmar Red Cross, traveled to Yangon for the occasion. A majority of them were experienced basketball players selected by the Paralympic federation.
“I play basketball every Friday at the centre. It’s fun with friends. There is no time to feel depressed at home. It helps me reintegrate into society.” Thet Cho Oo explains. Learning from the best During the five-day camp, the trainees were coached by Dr Mina Mojtahedi, a paraplegic former athlete: an expert basketball coach and the president of the Finnish Paralympic Committee.
“Athletes with disabilities are just like everyone else. Everybody has individual strength and weakness. Their impairment doesn’t affect their performance. It’s more about finding the sport that is suitable for them. For example, wheelchair basketball is suitable for the people with physical disabilities and goalball for the people with visual impairment .” said dr min aMojt ah edi, who also works as a disability inclusion advisor for the ICRC.
Dr Mina was hit with a spinal cord injury at the age of 13; she became a wheelchair racer at 18. She became interested in basketball years later and played intercollegiate wheelchair basketball while pursuing her doctoral degree in nutrition at the University of Illinois in the USA. She then played as a professional basketball player for a couple of years in Germany before becoming a coach.
In early October, she came to Myanmar to partake in the ICRC’S physical rehabilitation program as a coach.
“In non-disabled sports, there are many opportunities for children and youth. But, there are no sport opportunities for children and youth with disabilities. People with disabilities do not learn about opportunities for sport activities. Disabled people are marginalised in their communities. So it might be difficult to find them. We have to work hard to raise awareness in the communities and offer them opportunities.” Dr Mina said of participation.
For athletes with disabilities, one of the challenges is gaining accessible to the sport venue and equipment such as a sport wheelchair.
The ICRC donated sports gear and six basketball wheelchairs for athletes to the Myanmar Sport Paralympics Federations. It is also building wheelchair accessible toilets at the centre and renovating the court as well as providing air conditioning for the court space.
“The other challenges are that we do not have enough coaches, referees and staffs who can offer assistance. People with disabilities in Myanmar told me that they are being excluded, ignored by people in their communities and not recognised for their capabilities. What I see is that people with disabilities in Myanmar are very resilient.” she adds.
Wheelchairs, but no free ride U Htein Lin, assistant coach for the Myanmar Sport Paralympics Federation said:”if athletes give their best, sport will strengthen any person with a physical disability, making them also mentally strong so that they won’t yield to difficulties”.
10 para-athletes, having attended the basketball camp, will continue to practice for the 2020 ASEAN Para Games in the Philippines. The remaining eight athletes will go back to their hometowns and keep training.
“My goal is to be a wheelchair basketball athlete. If there is no training in my hometown, I will come here again to practice.” Thet Cho Oo said.
Aiming for the hoop.