Friday, March 30, 2007

Athletes with Heart

Peter dodges Matatus and Lorries for 6 kilometers in his wheelchair. His hour-long trip down the Mombasa-Malindi highway is done in 35 degree heat at 90% humidity. It’s dangerous and very very hot. He takes the trip every Saturday for the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball with the team he founded eight months ago.

Practice is held at the White Sands Beach Resort. The resort is kind enough to donate their court time once a week. For months there was no where to store the basketball wheelchairs at the resort, so Peter would heap the chairs on to his hand-trike (see photos) and hall the chairs himself down the highway to the resort. Eventually White Sands agreed to give them a storage room. Peter is grateful. I think it’s ridiculous that this posh hotel loaned them a room on the third floor. Only one team member is sufficiently mobile to hobble up and down the stairs with the chairs. The coach helps.

Practice starts with wheelchair repair. The donated basketball wheelchairs are crumbling. The tires have slow leaks. Pumping up is the first order of business. It takes several men to pump up the tires because all they have is a standard bicycle pump which requires someone to stand on it for stabilization. They work at it as a group and get the job done. There’s lots of general tweaking and tightening that goes on. These chair are about to fall apart.

None of the players can afford basic protective equipment. Hands bleed from blisters during practice. Shines take a thorough beating. Some players don’t have shoes for their deformed feet; which are occasionally bashed between chairs in the heat of play. Water is available from a nearby spigot, but in the extreme heat they players suffer from head aches because they cannot afford re-hydration salts.

The game stops frequently as the small front tires literally spin off the chairs and across the court. There is a loud bang. One of the tire tubes explodes. The tubes are ancient. They can’t stand up to the heat of the black top on the court. The tread-bare t-shirts of the players and the dilapidated wheelchairs are in stark contrast to the palm trees and enormous crystal blue pool of the five-star resort.

Once practice starts they all go at it on the half-court. James is the star. He has been selected to travel to Nairobi next week for national team trials. Go James!!! Not once did any one complain. Equipment malfunctions are taken in stride. Injuries are endured with a smile. They love this game!!

There is so much drive, spirit and determination. They are contagious. After spending a morning with them I’m onboard. There are so many insurmountable problems here, but this one can be fixed, and I with so much commitment I know any help they get will be put to excellent use.

Geoff and I will be writing American and Canadian organizations looking for a sponsor. If anyone reading this post would like to pitch-in, or if you know an organization or person we should contact about this, please email us.

What the team needs:

Shine guards
Net for the hoop
First Aid Kit
Re-hydration salts
New basketball wheelchairs
Portable Hoops - they can practice at Bombolulu and would not have to travel the dangerous highway to White Sands
Uniforms would be great

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