Four young women from Victoria will roll through the B.C. Winter Games this weekend – literally.
Athletes Ashley Griffith, Alyshia Joinson, Kelly Law and Ryleigh Bissenden, who all play out of the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, make up two-thirds of the wheelchair basketball team that will represent Vancouver Island-Central Coast at the Games in Mission, which opened yesterday (Feb. 20) and run until Sunday.
At PISE Tuesday night, coach Simon Cass put the foursome through a couple of games of knockout, and had them thundering up and down the gym floor practising off-hand dribbling as the players warmed up for their final practice before provincial competition.
“So many of our players are really new. So (the B.C. Games are) a really great development opportunity, in basketball skills and meeting other people their age with different disabilities,” Cass said.
Griffith, who at 14 is the youngest member of the foursome, is also the newest team member to the sport, with just two months’ experience. Griffith suffered multiple severe injuries in a fall in 2011. The Reynolds secondary student has endured two major spinal surgeries and discovered wheelchair basketball during rehab.
“I just got out of GF Strong (Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver) and they have wheelchair sports there once a week,” she said. “When I got hurt, I didn’t have a way to exercise. (Wheelchair basketball) is a great activity.”
Now living with complex chronic pain and confined to the chair, she finds the activity and socialization inspiring. She looks forward to “meeting other teenagers in chairs” at the B.C. Games.
It’s a philosophy she shares with teammate Alyshia Joinson, 17. The Spectrum community school Grade 11 student started playing in October after her congenital spina bifida and a foot injury a year earlier claimed her ability to walk. Though Joinson still gets upright now and again at home, her days are primarily spent on wheels.
“I knew I would be in a wheelchair eventually because I wasn’t supposed to walk, ever,” she said with a hint of a grin. “I have never seen anyone, besides Ashley, my age in a wheelchair. Particularly girls.”
The pair will play alongside two able-bodied peers from the Capital Region.
Law, the eldest member of the team at 22, will also provide the most experience of the four Victoria players. The Saanich woman discovered the sport and the wheelchair basketball program while taking post-secondary classes at PISE.
The fourth member of the team, 16-year-old Bissenden of Central Saanich, similarly discovered the sport a year ago as part of her home school physical education program.
“I started with a PISE program and we do a bunch of different sports,” she said. The able-bodied teen was hooked immediately. “It was fun. I loved it.”
The Vancouver Island-Central Coast team of six – the remaining two members are from up-Island – will battle other co-ed teams from different regions around the province, with athletes ranging from ages 12 to 22 in four-on-four competition during the three-day B.C. Games.
Despite the lack of experience, Joinson recalls an early meeting that inspired her to gear up for the Games.
“We got to hold the medals,” Joinson said. “I really want one.”
Visit vicnews.com and click the B.C. Games tab to learn more about athletes from across the province.