Disabled athletes recently joined with members of the Cuyamaca College basketball team, school administrators and local media for the 15th Annual Wheelchair Basketball Game. It was a chance for able-bodied people to “strap on a chair” and play the sport from a different perspective.
The five-on-five game, played last Wednesday, featured a mix of Cuyamaca’s basketball team playing alongside wheelchair basketball team players from throughout the county, in commemoration of National Disability Awareness Month.
Dan Altan, who plays wheelchair basketball in the Championship division for a team in Phoenix, said that the event is one of his favorites. He said that he’s attended 10 out of the 15 games.
The native of Toronto was diagnosed with polio when he was two years old. The disease affected his right leg and made him walk with a brace. He got into playing wheelchair basketball when he was 16.
“I saw some guys playing in the chair at a community college near where I lived,” he said. “Up until that time I had never been in a chair. And I saw how hard it was and how interesting it was. It got me excited.”
Altan was one of many disabled athletes playing in the game – many of whom also play for the San Diego Hammers, a semi-professional wheelchair basketball team. They were by far the best players on the court. He said that he thinks in today’s day and age, the misconception that disabled people can’t be great athletes is pretty much over.
“There’s so many successful athletes that are disabled and can achieve greatness, but there are different levels of athletes that are in the sport,” he said. “What you saw here are some good players, but there’s another two or three levels above this where the athletes are just stupendous. Even I have to sit back and go ‘wow’.”
The event was held as part of a resource fair, where about 10 different agencies provided information on disability support resources in the community.
We’ve been doing this for 15 years now, and we still have some of the original guys, so it’s a really fun event,” said Mary Asher-Fitzpatrick, Learning Disabilities Specialist for the college. “It transforms people and brings them together. It’s not about this team or that team, it’s about having fun.”