By Madhavi Latha:
I was 37 when I first experienced the magical feeling of walking in water. Having been in a wheelchair since I was affected by poliomyelitis when I was seven months old, the first few steps I took during hydrotherapy felt liberating. My health improved significantly, and my life saw a new beginning. From there, I went on to train in swimming, won three gold medals in the National Paralympics Swimming Championships and excelled at wheelchair basketball.
But why was it that I had to wait until I acquired a life-threatening spine condition before I learned about hydrotherapy? What suffering could I have foregone had I been introduced to the world of sports at a younger age? How many others like me are bearing the brunt of the lack of awareness? These were the questions that kept troubling me despite my own personal achievements, and they drove me to reach out to others with disabilities, to make available the sports opportunities, I did not have as a child.
This is how ‘Yes, We Too Can’ came into being in June 2011 – as my first attempt to introduce the world of sports to persons with disabilities (PWDs). Initially, I concentrated on promoting swimming among PWDs in Tamil Nadu. We started off by working with four swimmers, and today we have around 300 swimmers in the state.
It was through a UK-based NGO that I learned about wheelchair basketball. What got me excited was the possibility that this sport could prove to be an excellent way to inculcate leadership skills and team spirit among persons with disabilities. I began what turned into several years of field work that led to the setup and development of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India. With support from international organisations such as the ICRC and IWBF, we built a name for ourselves and today we’re putting together the country’s first ever wheelchair basketball team.
What started off as my personal journey to provide others with the opportunities that I was deprived of, has today become something much bigger: an endeavour that can change the face of Indian Paralympics forever. We soon had important names on board with us. For instance, Milkha Singh Ji and renowned Wheelchair Basketball Federation instructor Toufic Allouche have joined hands with our cause.
At the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India, our efforts are driven towards putting together the first national team of under-23 basketball shooters. Our players have played national games and won medals representing their respective states earlier. Today, they are all set to participate in the Asia-Oceania Zonal Qualifying Tournament in Thailand that could open the doors to an international championship in Canada in 2017. To me, this is a golden opportunity to bolster confidence among not just the 12 aspiring players, but also the innumerable eligible persons with disabilities.
The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India aspires to compete in the IWBF Asia-Oceania Zonal Qualifying Tournament in Thailand in January 2017 and is looking for help to make their journey. Fuel A Dream has partnered with the team to help them crowd source funds, but they have a long way to go to meet the requirement of 15 lakhs INR. To help send India’s first ever wheelchair basketball team to an international tournament, you can make contributions here.
About the author: Madhavi Latha is the President of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India and the founder of the ‘Yes We Too Can’ movement. An experienced Paralympics swimmer, she is currently working towards funding the first Indian national wheelchair basketball team for an international tournament.