Spotlight on… Wheelchair basketball

Anna Jackson

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports - try them! 

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport - the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world. 

In the first part of the series, we spoke to Anna Jackson, who won over 70 caps for the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team and played at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. Anna now works as a coach, tutor and motivational speaker. 

Wheelchair basketball is a popular event at the Paralympics and is set to entertain fans all over the world once again this summer. Anna told us all about her journey into the sport and why she thinks more people should get involved. 

Tell us about how you got into wheelchair basketball and your progression to where you are today 

“I’m an ex-hockey player. I had repeat knee injuries and knee surgeries so I had to stop playing that kind of sport, and then I discovered wheelchair basketball in 1997. 

“I thought I’d give it a go and within six months I was in the Great Britain squad. I went to a women’s development day in Chester and I trained with the GB women and thought it was just amazing! 

“That night the coach asked if I wanted to join the squad the next day. I thought he was just asking me to make up the numbers and help them train at first! 

“That was in March 1998 and then before I knew it I was heading off to tournaments in America, and then off to the World Championships in Sydney later that year. It was just crazy. 

“I didn’t start the sport with a dream of going on to play for ParalympicsGB. I loved it and I’d obviously got a talent for it, so I just played and that’s where the journey took me.” 

Why wheelchair basketball over other sports? 

“Being a hockey player, you’ve got a certain level of toughness and attitude about you, and I always liked the tough and physical aspects. 

“When I got in a wheelchair for the first time and realised there were lots of crashes and bashes, I just thought it was amazing. 

“Also, my knees were such a problem that with everything I did I had to think about how far I walked and where I could sit down. All of a sudden, I got in this basketball chair and had the freedom to go up and down the court as many times as I wanted. 

“Before that I’d tried to play other sports on foot, and it was just too painful. Suddenly, sat down, it was incredible. I could play sports and not have to think about being on my legs too long.”

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

“I went into it thinking it’s just for people who use a wheelchair all the time, so the biggest thing for me was learning that it’s for anybody with or without a disability - any age, any sex, any gender. 

“I think people have a perception of disability sport that it’s for people on wheels all the time. The biggest thing I wish I’d known then is how inclusive it is, and how many opportunities there are in it.” 

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far? 

“Definitely going to Sydney for the Paralympics in 2000, and all of a sudden realising where I was! For the opening ceremony we had these very formal suits - none of this tracksuit lark, we looked like we were going for a job interview! 

“It had been raining so we were soaking wet, we were cold, but I can remember looking down the stadium and Kylie Minogue was singing ‘Spinning Around.’ I remember hearing that and looking at this massive screen behind us and saying to my mate, ‘we’re at the Paralympics!’. 

“I remember ringing my dad on this old mobile phone I had, and trying to get him to listen to Kylie!” 

What's the best thing about wheelchair basketball? 

“For me it’s the freedom I get that I don’t have in the rest of my life, in terms of my legs, in terms of where I’m parking, where I’m going. 

“Once I’m on the court in my chair I’m just me and I’m free. It’s fun and enjoyable, everyone is getting stuck in. 

“Whether you’re scrummaging with your club on a Saturday at training or playing a GB game, it's that element of fun, enjoyment and freedom that makes it special for me.” 

What’s something only a wheelchair basketball player would know or appreciate? 

“You get filthy hands and are covered in blisters, and I don’t think anyone realises that when you start. 

“If you play a running sport you might get a blister on your toe or a sore foot. In our sport you get filthy hands, and you get blisters that can make you scream when you get in the bath afterwards.” 

What would you say to someone considering trying wheelchair basketball? 

“Don’t worry about your level of ability, don’t worry if you’ve got a disability or not, just get in and have a go. Those chairs are a piece of equipment that help you play sport, so whether you ran, jumped, hopped, or wheeled into the sports hall, just get in and give it a go. You’ll love it. 

“Just be open-minded and try to accept that you might be rubbish to start with - I was! I couldn’t hit a basket, but look where I went. You don’t have to be an expert the first time.”

Gain an insight into the world of another Paralympic sport by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give wheelchair basketball a try? Check out our club finder!