Playing basketball in a wheel­chair

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Disability - ZON PANN PWINT

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.

Photo: Sup­plied

Aiming for the hoop.

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