VIDEO: Norwich Lowriders end the year on a high
17:03 23 December 2014
Archant Norfolk 2014
Ruby’s dream is to represent her country, Joel wants to play professionally or have a career in coaching while Jamie is as happy playing as he is cheering on his friends.
They are just three of the members of wheelchair basketball club Norwich Lowriders and while they may be all different ages, come from different corners of Norfolk and have different disabilities, in their chairs on a court they are all equal.
Now as the club comes to the end of 2014 it is celebrating its tenth year and, for the first time in its history, it has been able to enter teams in every regional and national league.
As the youngsters and their coaches show off their skills at their Christmas training session at the club’s Easton College base, turning their specially designed wheelchairs on a sixpence, their parents watch on proudly and reflect on the impact the club has had on their children’s lives.
Joel Connor-Saunders from Norwich first came to a taster session at the age of nine and now at 18 he is part of the national team travelling all over the country for matches.
Mum Tina, who is also the club manager, said the change in her son, who has cerebal palsy, had been extraordinary.
“He was incredibly insecure as a child,” she said. “I could not leave him anywhere, he would scream the place down and cling on to me. But he started coming here and almost immediately there was a change in his personality. He could see that maybe he could do something and where he used to lack confidence the change was amazing. We see dramatic changes in every child that comes. Some are nervous and apprehensive but after a few sessions they are itching to come again.
“And it is not all about competing. It is all about children coming along for some exercise and being part of a group without feeling different from anyone else.”
Joel is now a level two qualified coach and is also training at a high performance centre which is the next step to being selected for Team GB.
“When I was younger I didn’t do any sport,” he said. “Now I do something with sport every day and I am doing a sports course at Easton College. I would like to get into wheelchair racing and am looking at taking up the javelin because this is a team sport and I would like to do something individual as well.
“It has changed my life, the social side as well because I have made so many friends through this sport up and down the country. It has opened a lot of doors for me.”
Dawn Pammenter brings her son Jamie, 11, all the way from Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, every Saturday for training. Jamie suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and has been coming for three years.
“It has given him so much more confidence and even if he is not playing he enjoys cheering the others on,” she said. “Seeing other children in wheelchairs helps him feel he is not any different to them.”
15-year-old Ella Wood from Wymondham is a whizz around the court. She has dyspraxia which affects her co-ordination but is so proud of her new skills.
“It was a difficult thing to do but I made new friends,” she said. “I am part of a great sports team.”
Mum Amy said the level of sport is “outstanding”. She said: “Watching them at full tilt playing is exhilarating. You forget about the disability and just see the skill, technique and athleticism.”
Nikki Bishop from Sprowston has been bringing 10-year-old daughter Ruby, who suffers from cerebal palsy, for the past 18 months and said it had become “her life”.
She said: “Before she joined she had no confidence, but you put her in one of these chairs and her world is transformed. Her whole life has improved. She feels part of a team and her self esteem has rocketed.”
Her brother Jack, 12, who is able bodied, also gets to have a turn and when the siblings are both in chairs they are able to compete on a level playing field.
She said: “I like playing in the teams, I am quite competitive. It felt a bit weird getting in the chair the first time but I love it. My dream is to be in Team GB in the 2020 Paralympics.”
Mrs Bishop said Ruby’s confidence had soared so much that even the normally terrifying thought of moving up from junior to high school was not worrying her.
“She is going to Sprowston High in September next year but she is not scared at all. As a parent you want your child to be happy and we have found something that does that so we will do everything in our power to help her achieve her dreams.”
To find out more about Norwich Lowriders visit their website www.pitchero.com/clubs/norwichlowriderswheelchairbasketballclub/ or contact Tina Connor-Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone her on 07585 125928.
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