By Ryan McCracken on March 13, 2018.
There was no shortage of spirit on Saturday at the Family Leisure Centre.
While the Medicine Hat College Rattlers team came out with the March Madness wheelchair basketball tournament championship thanks to a 20-19 victory over Crestwood Dental, the real winner was Medicine Hat Adaptive Sport and Recreation.
The event raised an estimated $4,200 to grow the sport in Medicine Hat, but the giving didn’t stop there, as representatives from Ultimate Freedom Plus stepped up to donate a new wheelchair to the budding program as well.
“This is what we do. It’s what we sell and work with the most so we talked about it amongst ourselves then brought it to the owner, who’s actually out of Lethbridge, his name is Gary Olson and he said ‘Absolutely,'” said Mary Baba, who donated the wheelchair on behalf of Ultimate Freedom Plus alongside Al Labonte and DoniRae Lofthang. “This industry has meant a lot to all three of us.”
“It’s great to be able to give back. It’s been a lot of fun and we just want to help people out,” added Labonte. “It’s great to have all the volunteers come out and do this and we’re looking forward to next year.”
Medicine Hat Adaptive Sport and Recreation’s Tara Chisholm says the weekend exceeded expectations, especially considering a sport-ready wheelchair can cost as much as $2,500.
“That was really nice and unexpected. We’re really excited about it,” said Chisholm, adding a sport-ready chair differs from an average wheelchair in a number of ways. “It’s got a camber on it, so that means the wheels are tilted so they have a better rotation on them and it’s just more stable, and it has some anti-tippers, which a lot of day chairs do. It’s a small wheel in the back so when you lean back to shoot you don’t fall over.”
While the program just started up this year, Chisholm says the results and feedback from Saturday’s March Madness tournament foreshadow a promising future for the sport in Medicine Hat, both for people who rely on wheelchairs in their day-to-day lives, and those who simply want a new challenge.
“It’s great to raise the money so we can support our wheelchair basketball program, which is brand new this year, but also to raise awareness. We had people from all sorts of different businesses that came out and supported, so it was nice for them to have a better understanding of what our athletes go through on a weekly basis,” said Chisholm. “Yes, your shoulders hurt, yes, your hands are going to get raw and blistered, but that’s how we play our sport. We play basketball just like anybody else.”
Former Medicine Hat Rattlers basketball star Guilherme Fuck found that out for himself while competing for the eventual champion MHC squad. The former Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men’s basketball player of the year says the game takes on a whole new form when you get wheels involved.
“I consider myself, or I used to be a very good basketball player but when I come here I’m just a regular guy … It’s totally different, for sure. Not getting to use your legs and just your upper body, it changes completely the game,” said Fuck. “While we use our legs, they have to be able to use the coordination with the wheels and control with the ball, it’s impressive.”
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