There are things a person learns when they find them self in a wheelchair. For instance, how water fountains are never user-friendly, and how to adjust to being eye-level with something no one wants to see. However; in most cases, people in chairs have to learn how to travel. Whether it be traveling to a different state to talk to a specialist on their disability, or traveling across the world to compete in wheelchair athletics. Seeing as there is not a plethora of disabled athletes in one place, things never seem to be local, making lots of travel necessary.
Being a physically disabled athlete myself, I’ve taken some pretty phenomenal trips such as Vancouver for the winter Paralympics, the Cayman Islands, and all over America. As cool as those places may have been, nothing beats my first international trip. I was chosen to represent the USA Women’s Under 23 Basketball Team in Sydney, Australia.
The entire trip was 22 hours. That included the five hour flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles, a three hour layover, and then the fourteen hour flight to Sydney. I developed a great respect for Quantas airlines that day. There were 24 athletes in total. All of us compared to the two aisle chairs the plane had on bored was a bad situation. There was always some kid crawling up and down the plane to get to the bathroom.
As if taking care of a group of disabled teenager’s sanitary needs wasn’t bad enough, the real respect was earned when exiting the plane. All 24 of us came with our everyday wheelchairs and our sports chairs. Meaning 48 chairs in total, 96 very similar wheels needing to go to the right chair, and 24 kids who have to “gimp” their way off the plane. By some miracle, we all managed to get out in a timely manner, and we all had wheels on our chairs. They weren’t necessarily “our” wheels exactly, but at that point showers and naps took precedence.
We stayed at a Hampton Inn just outside of Sydney for about three days. We’d practice in the morning’s and then take the train to Darling Harbor where we experienced street performers, strange haircuts, bizarre animals, and the sights of Australia, including the Harbor Bridge, and the infamous Opera House. After getting accustomed to the time change, obnoxious birds, and quirks of a new country, we traveled out to Narabeen where the games were. Why these games were there, I’ll never know. Public transportation didn’t even go to this place. Upon arrival, we all climbed into our little purple cabin, watched a few of us try to flop onto the top bunk of the beds, and headed off to the gym for our first game.
Our team was the only all-girls team of the tournament, and none of us were particularly tall. Our first game was against New South Wales, a team of mostly giant, older, guys, and we got slaughtered by 60 points. As rough as that was, none of us seemed to be too torn up. We were singing on the bench, clapping, laughing, and having a ball. During that game, I truly grasped why we were there. We were representing America at an elite level, but most importantly we were there to have fun. Not many people get to experience that, able-bodied or not, it’s something special. We may not have been the tallest team there, or the best, but we were the proudest. The games ended, and we went on to bring back the silver, wheels and all.
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