TRURO – After the final buzzer sounded, Justice Nickerson stood up from his wheelchair, grabbed a basketball and drained a shot from beyond the arc.
It was the first shot he’d made in a while.
The 18-year-old local basketball standout took a step out of his comfort zone on the court Saturday afternoon, giving wheelchair basketball a shot for the first time.
“Right now my arms are dead,” Nickerson, who has committed to St. Francis-Xavier, said after his second game of the day at the NSCC gym. “Having to go up and down the court all game, pushing with your arms. It’s tiring, tiring, tiring.”
Nickerson was one of several basketball players to take on the sport for the first time, as part of an effort organized by the Nova Scotia provincial team and Joel Goswell – a summer employee with Bible Hill’s rec department.
Goswell got the idea after Brendan Smithson asked him to take on a pilot project for the community. Goswell, having played wheelchair basketball previously, decided to spread the sport around.
“It’s something a lot of people don’t even know. They see these chairs and wonder why your wheelchair looks so weird.”
After putting on a few demonstrations throughout the summer, Goswell decided to have a three-on-three tournament to cap off the summer.
Nickerson, who works with Goswell at Bible Hill’s summer camp, decided to give it a shot.
“One day Joel brought in the chair to show the kids and I tried it and thought it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Helping out on Saturday were several of Goswell’s teammates on Team Nova Scotia, including coach Steve Sampson and newcomers Abbey Smith and Ben Power.
Smith, arguably the best player on the court, started playing in November after suffering knee and ankle injuries playing standup basketball. While at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, Smith watched the national wheelchair team practice.
“I was really interested in how they were shooting, because you can’t use your legs,” she said. “They invited me to come out to practice one day and I’ve been playing ever since.”
Goswell’s plan is to take that idea and bring it home to Truro.
“There’s a lot of people who have had accidents and become disabled and can no longer be physically active,” he said. “I want to help them out.”
Power, a Cole Harbour native, started playing after volunteering at the Canada Games and catching a glimpse of the sport for the first time.
“It was a completely new spin on the game for me. It’s been fun ever since.”
There are several challenges to playing the sport, especially for people who live without disabilities. Maneuvering the chair, having upper body stamina and especially ball-handling were all mentioned by the players at NSCC.
“Trying to coordinate the ball around your chair is hard,” Power said. “When you’re standing up there’s a lot less space to have to work around. But sitting down you’re a lot wider.”
Another big challenge is the intensity of the game, Goswell said.
“It’s very physical,” he said. “There’s standup basketball where you can’t touch each other, and then there’s this, where you’re ramming into each other to battle for space.”
For people who live battling adversity with a disability, however, the learning curve can be a lot shorter.
“They are so used to not being better at things, but they have the everyday chair skills that are a huge advantage,” Goswell said. “If you can get one person to try it, you can change someone’s life.”