Wheelchair basketball superstar gave demonstration, talk at JD Hogarth

FERGUS – International wheelchair basketball star Patrick Anderson showed some of his basketball tips and tricks at JD Hogarth Public School this week. 

The four-time Paralympian and Fergus native was at the school on Oct. 22 celebrating the first year of the Patrick Anderson Wheelchair Basketball Program, offered by the Upper Grand District School Board.

Program founder and organizer Andy Speers explained the program is for all students from kindergarten to Grade 12. 

Speers and Anderson piloted the program at a few schools last year but it’s now a full-fledged program with all 32 school spots booked for two full school years. 

This year four school have already tried the program at their schools and the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Speers said. “Just really enjoying the program.”

The inspiration behind the program is wheelchair basketball star Anderson. 

Growing up Anderson loved sports and music. 

“I played any sport at school I could get my hands,” he said. 

However, when he was nine-years old he was involved in a car accident when the driver lost control of their car after drinking too much. He lost his legs and for a while didn’t know how to get back into sports. ]

He was able to quickly pick back up with music but he struggled to play sports. 

He tried cross country skiing and roller blading using his prosthetic legs but it never worked out. 

About a year after the accident, he discovered wheelchair basketball. 

“It was probably the first time in a year that I didn’t think about skating and think about running and think about jumping, climbing, falling out the trees,” Anderson said. “Because I was flying … like someone had taken my legs and sat back and said ‘oh, wait a second I have something for you, here’s some wings.

“Okay, go fly.’”

And he’s been playing wheelchair basketball ever since. He’s planning to represent Canada next year at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

Anderson took time during the summer to put together instructional videos for teachers, so once the school gets the sport wheelchairs for a week they have all the tools to teach lessons. 

“The hope is … when the chairs are here everyone is … using it in their gym classes,” Speers said. “So whatever you’re doing in gym kind of that unit stops and you just have the chair for a week and … we’re hoping that each kid gets about 100 minutes in at least.”

At JD Hogarth Public School the students not only used the chairs in their gym class but they used them for intermurals during recess and even the teachers used the chairs after school. 

Bob and Lynn Cameron, owners of Heritage River Retirement Residence in Elora, sponsored all 16 wheelchairs, at a cost of about $18,000 and the RDK wheelchairs were supplied by Sunrise Medical. 

Anderson told students that he had to work to get to the point he is at in wheelchair basketball and he attributes a lot of his success to his coaches. 

His first coach taught him how to shoot the ball correctly.

“Sometimes as a coach, as a teacher, as a parent, as a pastor, you have to be the bad guy,” he said, adding that his coach made him sit under the basket and shoot one handed until he could easily make the shot. 

“It’s boring but I had to do it and he made me do it and I really didn’t like him for a few months but as the shots started to go in and I got a little bit better, a little bit better, I started to like Jeff again and funny how that works,” he said. “So in addition to having some talents and joy I had great coaching.” 

However, he did say that even with all of his joy and love for wheelchair basketball he still felt sad when he’d see his friends playing hockey. 

“I was like ‘what’s going on here I’m happy one minute and super sad the next minute,’” he said. 

So he prayed, and asked God for new legs but nothing happened. 

“But that was the answer,” Anderson said. “And that was the last time I remember praying that prayer, and I think the experience of playing wheelchair basketball finally, sunk in that day.”

He realized that losing his legs made him a better wheelchair basketball player. 

“I’m so blessed with the sport,” Anderson said. “And I’ve been able to explore that and not necessarily feel bad about the fact that this happened when I watch hockey  … but I was given the opportunity to think about what I still have, even though I’m missing something. 

“I guarantee each and every one of you has a unique gift, unique strength that you guys can build on,” he said.