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Annabelle Lindsay: The Transition to Wheelchair Basketball

18 July 2016

By Mirella Connell (Basketball ACT: Media & Communications Volunteer)

20160712 Annabelle Lindsay Article photo

Pictured: Annabelle at the Belconnen Basketball Stadium.

At 18, Annabelle Lindsay was one of the top junior basketball prospects in Canberra.

Known for her excellent rebounding skills and scoring ability around the rim, Annabelle was a member of the Canberra Capitals Academy SEABL [South East Australian Basketball League] team, had represented the ACT State Team at the Australian National Championships each year between 2009 and 2015 for her age division, and had recently accepted a basketball scholarship to Minot State University in North Dakota. To Annabelle, her ten years of playing basketball and training once or twice per day finally seemed to be paying off.

However, in April 2016, Annabelle’s fortune began to change: Following a knee dislocation and longstanding knee issues, “things began to hurt that shouldn’t have been hurting”, and she did not recover from arthroscopy surgery as quickly as expected. Over the course of several weeks, Lindsay’s prior knee injury exacerbated, leaving her in May with minimal cartilage in her right knee and the beginnings of osteoarthritis. A series of MRI scans revealed the extent of the damage: Annabelle would likely never be able to play contact sports or undertake activities involving running or jumping, including basketball, ever again. “I tried to make a comeback, but I lasted about two weeks before my knee completely blew up”, she explained. Annabelle promptly relinquished her scholarship at Minot State, instead deciding to turn the remainder of 2016 into a gap year to focus on her coaching duties within the Aussie Hoops and Sporting Schools programs at Basketball ACT.

Whilst many young people who play basketball incur knee injuries, these injuries do not normally have permanent consequences and the formation of arthritis was not something that Lindsay or her coaches ever expected. As such, Annabelle initially had difficulties in coming to terms with her knee condition, and began at the time to reflect on the opportunities that she felt she lost: “Ever since I was little, it was my dream to play in America and get a scholarship, and everyone who knew me knew that that was my goal. So when I found out that I couldn’t go, obviously I was quite devastated. I had been to America around six times growing up, and often went to the college games… I eventually saw myself playing for the WNBA [Women’s National Basketball Association] one day”.

Nevertheless, Annabelle is not one to give up lightly: Her injury soon turned into an opportunity when a friend messaged her in late May and gave her information about the Canberra Chargers Wheelchair Basketball Team. She invited Annabelle to go along with her to a training session with the Team, asserting that it was a highly welcoming environment. “I think I needed something to focus on, and replace what [able-bodied] basketball had for me”, Annabelle explains. “Ultimately, trying out wheelchair basketball gave me the opportunity to continue the sport I love despite my injury.” Lindsay had not played wheelchair basketball before, except for once when she attended a community session several years ago. However, she found the training session to be “super fun” and “something that [she] could get into.” Annabelle also emphasises that wheelchair basketball gave her another opportunity to work hard to achieve the goals that she had set out to achieve in able-bodied basketball, which were to “represent [her] state and country in the sport”.

The sport of wheelchair basketball adapts the rules of able-bodied basketball to cater for the unique challenges that playing in a chair may educe: As the wheelchair is considered a part of the player’s body during games, players can receive fouls for charging if their chair comes into contact with their opponents, and players are only allowed to push their wheelchair twice before they must dribble or pass the ball again. Annabelle has since borrowed a wheelchair from a friend which she uses at training sessions, and feels that she is reasonably competitive in the sport despite these new rules. “I think it helps that I’ve got a basketball background, so all I need to do is learn how to play in a chair. Whereas for a lot of wheelchair basketballers, they’re learning how to play for the first time.” She adds that “the main adjustment for me is having to learn how to shoot without standing up and having to push the chair for the whole game… But I definitely feel like I am getting better with practise.” The Canberra Chargers team which Annabelle plays for operates as part of a mixed-gender, regional competition involving a 3-2 arrangement: There are three able-bodied and two wheelchair players on the court at any one time. The Team also welcomes players of all disabilities and skill levels to join, including interested able-bodied players.

Annabelle was soon also recruited by the Sydney University Flames Wheelchair squad, based at the Sydney University Sports and Aquatics Centre. The Flames form part of the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League (‘WNWBL’), and Annabelle has been commuting back and forth between Canberra and Sydney each week in order to train with the group. “My two rounds [played so far in the WNWBL] went great,” Annabelle mentioned. “I’m playing with an awesome and very talented group of girls who I am able to learn a lot from. It’s a great experience to be able to play against athletes who I’ve watched on television playing for the Gliders [The Australian Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team].”

The advice that Annabelle would give to others if they found themselves in a similar situation? “I want to let others know that being injured is not the end of the world. I used to be like ‘Well, if I’m not going to America and I can’t play basketball, what do I do?’ But very quickly I realised that as disappointed as I was that I wasn’t going to be able to play anymore, I knew that I couldn’t get hung up on it and that I had to move on and find something else to focus my attention on. I realised that there were heaps of other things that I could find to do, even if that meant being open to doing something that I had never imagined myself doing. I think you just have to find what’s next and just look ahead”. Annabelle continued on to say that “I feel as though the saying “when one door closes, another one opens” is very applicable in my situation. I guess it’s a lesson for any setback that you face in life.”

Annabelle has recently been offered a coaching scholarship in 2020 to undertake a Master’s Degree at Minot State, and is excited that she is “still able to get to go over there and live her dream but on the other side, as an Assistant Coach.” She claims that the University were highly understanding of her situation, stating that “it’s a great community…the fact that they would offer me a second scholarship, but for coaching and still keep in touch with me on a regular basis shows how amazing the people are there and what a great choice I made in picking them.”

Annabelle plans to study PE Teaching at the University of Canberra in 2017 and would consider coaching wheelchair basketball in the future alongside her existing coaching duties. She deduces that the fun in basketball is not about whether the player is standing up or pushing a chair, but instead about playing as part of a team, reaching personal goals, and learning new skills, and she looks forward to taking advantage of these opportunities during her future with the WNWBL. Above all, Annabelle has still retained her sense of humour. “I’m just saying, it’s no coincidence that Kobe Bryant [LA Lakers player from the NBA] and I retired in the same year.”

For further information on wheelchair basketball in Canberra, please visit www.basketballact.com.au/wheelchair/.

The Canberra Chargers can be found on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/canberrachargers

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