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Athlete enjoys sharing experience of his sport

February 23, 2013

Wakelin, PBy CLAUDE SCILLEY

There were lots of smiles the other day when students at Lancaster Drive Public School tried their hand at playing wheelchair basketball. Clearly, they were intrigued by the challenges of dribbling, passing and shooting a ball while seated in a device that wouldn’t necessarily do what they expected.

The smiles of the new participants, however, couldn’t match the one on the face of the man showing them how to do it.

“I love it,” said Peter Wakelin. “Seeing kids happy when they try it for the first time … I love it.”

Wakelin, 21, from Brampton, has been playing the game for more than 10 years. He was a member of the provincial team that won the silver medal at the 2011 Canada Games and he’s now a member of Team Ontario, a group comprising players currently on the national team and others who aspire to it.

In addition to practising and competing, as able-bodied athletes do, disabled athletes often also serve as ambassadors for their sport, promoting it, explaining it, demonstrating it on the most basic levels.

“You hear ‘basketball’ and immediately you think stand-up,” Wakelin said. “You don’t think, ‘Oh, they’re sitting in a chair, having to dribble the ball while pushing a chair.’”

It’s an instructive task their able-bodied contemporaries seldom have to perform  and, Wakelin said, it does add to the challenge of elite paralymic sport. For him, however, it’s neither distraction nor annoyance.

“It helps me in the long run,” he said. “It betters me as a person, and as an athlete as well. It gives me a level of satisfaction (that) when I’m on the court or on the bench I’m able to talk to my teammates calmly, give them that spirit to push themselves harder.”

It wasn’t always that way for Wakelin.

“Before I played sports, I was the kid who got bullied every day in school,” he said. “I thought I was nothing. I was a loner. Then I found the sport and I found teammates and it brought life into me.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I have something to live for and accomplish. It brought a whole upside to my life and made me what I am today.”

It also instilled confidence, Wakelin said, to engage young people.

“In public, people will see me in the street and the first thing they look at it is, ‘Oh, you’re in a chair,’ not, ‘You’re a person.’ Growing up I saw it and I was never happy about it but now I see it and I introduce myself. (Children) either get scared and run away or say, ‘Hi,’ and speak back.

“Playing basketball has grown me as a person. I’ve learned what I can do to make people more aware of disabilities and sport.”

Crediting sport with personal development is a fairly universal sentiment, one not necessarily reserved for those with disabilities.

“It’s the same, the passion for the sport, the drive, the competitiveness. It’s all there,” Wakelin said. “The only difference is I’m sitting down. I tell people I’m still a person. Even though I’m sitting in a chair and can’t walk, I’m still a person. I have that drive.”

When he’s not on the basketball court, that drive manifests itself in the delight of being a purveyor of his sport.

“When I go and show kids what I do and how I do it, they thank me,” he said. “I was at a school where, at the end of it, they were giving the athletes hugs, saying ‘Thank you so much.’

“It feels really good to know that people love seeing what we do and how high a level it can go. It’s amazing.”

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From → Amateur sport

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