Wheelchair basketball: A ray of hope in the lives of paraplegics | Milaap

Wheelchair basketball: A ray of hope in the lives of paraplegics

Finding mobility after polio 
Eight years ago, Madhavi Latha’s life came to a standstill when she was diagnosed with polio and given an year to live. Her spinal cord was compressed dangerously, compressing her lungs. This meant less oxygen for her body and weak muscles. 
She needed an immediate spinal surgery and her chances were bleak. But fate had something else in store. She met a physiotherapist who suggested hydrotherapy - exercises underwater. Madhavi decided to give it a shot despite her family's objections.

To everyone’s surprise, the buoyancy of water made her body light and the weak muscles in her legs could now bear her weight. Under water, she could walk. “This meant a completely different world of freedom for me,” she says. 

Making new achievements 
Madhavi's health got better and she decided to take it up a notch. In 2010, while working with a bank, Madhavi participated in the corporate Olympiad for able-bodied athletes. “The organiser’s worry for my safety made me swim with four others around for support,” she recalls. 

She finished the 100m freestyle to great applause, bagging the title of 'the most encouraging sports person'. This competitive race was a turning point in her life. She subsequently participated in the para-swimming national championship and won three gold medals. That's when she began thinking - if she could find happiness through sports at 40, why not use it to change the lives of others like her?

Mobility for everyone 
She initiated 'Yes, We Too Can!', a movement advocating the benefits of sports for people with disabilities. Interaction with the community helped her understand the hindrances they face. There was a deep lack of awareness about fitness. She began actively recommending sports to those who could play. 

Her efforts led to the formation of a state-level association for paralympic swimmers. The association was very successful with many going on to compete at the national level. Several organisations came forward to extend their support to Madhavi. 

Her collaboration with the UK based not-for-profit, Choice International, led her to a new sport - wheelchair basketball. With a few others, Madhavi decided to form the national body - Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) in 2014.

Wheelchair Basketball comes to India 
Through the establishment of WBFI, she met Kalyani Rajaraman. These two visionaries spearheaded the growth of wheelchair basketball in the country. They would go to public platforms and talk about recognising the potential of the differently-abled.

WBFI started to scout for players by conducting workshops in numerous organisations to help individuals play the sport professionally. 

By 2014, they held the very first national Wheelchair Basketball Championship at Chennai with five teams from different states. The duo was also responsible for associating the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation with the second national Wheelchair Basketball Championship held at New Delhi in December 2015.

The larger vision – representing India in the Olympics 
At the forefront of this event and a part of a women’s team herself, Madhavi set the tone for all the other women participating for the first time. “We need to encourage every association to bring in more women and child players to the game. WBFI’s aim is to see a team from India at the Wheelchair Basketball Championship, in the 2020 Paralympics at Tokyo,” she says about her plan for the future. 

For someone who stumbled upon para-sports just seven years back, Madhavi has helped change the lives of hundreds others like her. Her efforts have ensured awareness towards people with disability and have changed the mindset of thousands.

Wheelchairs for the team 
To help Madhavi in her dream of sending a team to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, she needs wheelchairs in which the team can practice. At present 350 people use 35 outdated wheelchairs. Madhavi wants to buy at least 100 sports wheelchairs, each costing Rs 35,000 each.  

Sports can transform the lives of people with disability. They play, laugh, compete and cooperate. They are a part of a team and have a shot at victory. Donating towards a better life for them is also investing in India's own wheelchair basketball team.  

You can donate to their campaign here.