History in the Making

 In West and Central Asia

The excitement in the air was palpable as people began gathering in the local park. Questions abounded: What’s going on? Why are all these people in wheelchairs and on crutches here? Why are they wearing uniforms? Little did they know that they were about to see history unfolding before their eyes as the first-ever Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in the country was about to begin.

One year ago, when the team in Central Asia were developing plans for wheelchair provision, members of a local disabled person’s organisation asked us to order sports wheelchairs so they could play sports together. While initially doubtful, we took a risk and began dreaming of a sports team for people with disabilities.

This summer, workers from a nearby country experienced in sports ministry and coaching, began working with those who wanted to participate in
sports. They trained them in basketball skills, rules, and strategy. One of the coaches told us, “At first I planned to meet them just three times a week, but they wanted to do more than that. Last week we met on six days! They love playing and learning and are really competitive!”

A men’s team and a women’s team from the north of the country competed in the tournament against those from the south. The large crowd really got into the games and cheered loudly. A government official told us, “I never thought this would work. I just could not imagine how people in wheelchairs could play basketball, but this is so
fantastic!”

As is typical for this culture, music would start to play and everyone would go out on the court to dance, even those in wheelchairs. In a culture where disability is seen as a curse, it was powerful
to see a joyful celebration as people with disabilities were acknowledged and appreciated for being capable athletes. It is our hope that events like these will lead to greater inclusion for people with disabilities in all areas of life in this country. What’s next? Perhaps soon we will see a team from our country competing at the Paralympic Games. It is a dream, but this basketball tournament has shown that dreams can come true!

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