This article was written by one of my players from the Angels of the North Women's Team.
When people ask my why I coach it is for moments like these; Medals and wins are great but when you realise the impact you can have on someone's life that is just 'Magic'
Last weekend was the final weekend of British Wheelchair Basketball's Women's league. I was there as part of the Angels of the North team, a team formed out of a need for a team for northern women whose local clubs didn't have enough female players to form a team. It has grown.
It is now a family of women and girls who are vaguely northern who also happen to play ball, ranging from the likes of myself who play solely for fun up to young women who represent Great Britain at Paralympic level (and those who have done so in the past.) I was adopted into this fabulous family this year after a hellish year last year with my old club which left me almost ready to leave the sport completely.
It's been a tough year. My old team were down in the shallow end (and being beaten even there) and when I signed for Angels I thought I was signing for their third or fourth team, who play in the lower divisions. Turned out, those two teams were going solo this year as the rather magnificent Scottish Women Warriors. So I was thrown into the deep end in second division. I'm not going to lie, it has been hard work. I am unfit, I am a bit of a slow learner and somewhat uncoordinated thanks to my "disabilities". The latter I can do little about, the former I am going to have to work on before next season.
I didn't get a lot of court time in the last weekend, the games were tight and the results mattered too much (and our coach full well understands that that kind of pressure does me no favours) but I played hard from the bench. I shouted, I cheered, I encouraged, I learned, I loved every single second of it. I will admit to being a bit disappointed but I also understood the reasons, we are a team and there is no space for prima donnas.
I got my reward though. The very lovely Anna Jackson, coach of the first team and past Paralympian sprung a surprise on me just as I was about to put my game chair away and change into something a little less sporty. I was on the bench for the final game of the first team. Me; Fat, in my Forties and a bit of a Fumbler, on the same bench as past, present and future stars in my beloved sport. I might have flapped a wee bit. I might even have squeeked. I was made welcome, made part of the team, encouraged when my warm up shots missed, cheered when I got them in.
Then I settled down for some serious shoutiness from the bench and to enjoy a courtside view of a really spectacular match. A fellow second team player got a basket, I was so excited for her, so proud of a young woman who has fought battles with her health for all of her life and who always smiles.
When Anna sauntered up to talk to me, I was expecting some coaching, some playing tips, some "watch how _________ plays" I wasn't expecting "you are going on court" Seriously, definitely, didn't even dream of it. I think I may have shouted at the poor woman..... A friend in the stands said she could see my whole body language change. And then I was on court, partnered with Robyn Love (yes, I'm name dropping, I don't care!!!) and I played to my strengths as a guard, set screens for her, got in the way of the opposition in defence and tried very hard to keep up with girls half my age as they hurtled up the court. I played less then 5 minutes but they were fantastic, memorable, exciting and HARD! There was a tiny bit of dust or something in my eyes when it was all over.
After that came the All Stars match which was exciting, and a team full of Angels (and coached by one) won. Obviously. Because Angels rock. :-D and then the medals for the whole tournament. Angels 1 were runners up in the First Division so got lovely shiny silver medals. And suddenly friends were telling me to go up too, because I had actually played for that team, even if only for a few minutes, and Anna was telling me to come over and there I was, surrounded by an army of Angels, with a medal around my neck and a bit more dust in my eyes.
It's not a medal that says "I scored baskets" or "I was there from start to finish". It is oh so very much more than that. It is a medal that says "I belong" it says "you are one of us" I earned it from the bench as much as on the court. It is my reward for not giving up, for trusting coaches, for putting aside my nerves, my fears, my nasty little gremlins who tell me I'm no good. I am part of the best family, playing the best sport. Roll on next season.