A first for NI as James re­alises his dream to join GB’s wheel­chair bas­ket­ball team

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY GIL­LIAN HAL­L­I­DAY

HE was a star of lo­cal wheel­chair bas­ket­ball — and now James MacSor­ley has be­come the first per­son from North­ern Ire­land to play in­ter­na­tion­ally for Great Bri­tain.

The Belfast man, who has played the sport since he was six, will travel with his team-mates to Ger­many next month to play in the 2018 World Wheel­chair Cham­pi­onships.

Mr MacSor­ley (23), who was born with spina bi­fida, be­came a pro­fes­sional wheel­chair player last year af­ter mov­ing to Sh­effield, where Team GB have their train­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Twice re­cip­i­ent of the NI Dis­abled Sports­man of the Year award, he made the move af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Queen’s Univer­sity with a de­gree in Span­ish and law.

“It’s the weirdest thing in the world,” he said of his el­e­va­tion to in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

“Peo­ple have said to me: ‘This has been your dream for years’. I’ve thought at times it was un­achiev­able.

“I could have stayed in Belfast but I de­cided to go full-time, to go pro­fes­sional.”

One of his driv­ing forces was his mother Anne, who was trag­i­cally killed in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent in 2005 at the age of 40.

A phar­ma­cist, she en­cour­aged her son and daugh­ter Eimear, who was also born with spina bi­fida, not to let the con­di­tion pre­vent them from pur­su­ing their dreams.

That led the sib­lings to take up wheel­chair bas­ket­ball with Belfast club The Knights. Mr MacSor­ley said he owed ev­ery­thing to his mum and his dad Michael, who is a doctor.

“I do this for her and my dad be­cause they be­lieved in me,” he ex­plained.

“My mum, for the short time that she was around, taught me a lot.

“Mo­ments like this I do think about her.”

His other big in­spi­ra­tions are his 24-year-old sis­ter, who was NI Dis­abled Sportswoman of the Year in 2014, and his girl­friend Anna Caskey (23), a law grad­u­ate who he lives with in Sh­effield.

The pair met at Aquinas Gram­mar School in Belfast.

The wheel­chair sports­man is full of praise for his sup­port­ive part­ner.

“I’m so for­tu­nate. I couldn’t have done any of this with­out her. She’s very de­ter­mined and that in­spires me,” he said.

Both Anna and Eimear will be trav­el­ling to Ger­many for the Cham­pi­onships, held from Au­gust 16-26.

Un­for­tu­nately, his fa­ther is un­able to at­tend due to work com­mit­ments, but will be able to watch the games streamed live on­line.

“Months ago he asked me whether or not he should book the time off to go to the cham­pi­onships,” he ex­plained.

“But I hon­estly didn’t think I’d get selected, so I told him not to worry.”

How­ever, he was hap­pily proven wrong, and now the big Manch­ester United fan has thrown all his ef­forts into the in­ten­sive GB train­ing sched­ule.

“It’s Mon­day to Thurs­day train­ing at the minute, be­tween five to six hours, gym ses- sions, one-on-one skill ses­sions with the coach, team meet­ings, physio,” he ex­plained.

“It’s fairly full-on. I wouldn’t ever com­plain about it, though. I’m re­ally lucky.”

Al­though now a mem­ber of the Sh­effield Steel­ers club, he still main­tains strong links with the Knights.

“They’re incredible. None of this would have hap­pened with­out them,” he said.

And the lo­cal team mem­bers no doubt will be fol­low­ing closely GB’s per­for­mance in Ham­burg, where they will go up against South Korea in their open­ing game.

“We’re a good young team with a great mix of play­ers,” said Mr MacSor­ley of their chances in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“Team USA are the ones we have to watch.”

Longer term, he has his sights on the 2020 Par­a­lympics in Tokyo, Ja­pan. “That’s the ul­ti­mate goal, mak­ing it into the men’s GB team.”

James MacSor­ley and girl­friend Anna Caskey. Be­low: James with his sis­ter Eimear, and (left) in ac­tion on

the bas­ket­ball court

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