Saturday, March 24, 2012
Standard Life GB Wheelchair Basketball team member, Abdi Jama, explains how he grew from Everton football hopeful, to a serious Paralympic contender.
Asking British Basketball star Abdi Jama about his hopes for the 2012 Paralympic Games prompts a huge smile.
“No less than gold,” he says. He’s not joking.
Born in Somalia but now a “full-time Scouser”, Jama, 26, is a member of the Standard Life GB Wheelchair Basketball team. He was crowned best newcomer at the 2008 British Wheelchair Sports Awards and looks set to help the team race home with a medal at this year’s Games.
Jama has always been sporty. He was a schoolboy footballer for Everton when, aged 14, he fell out of a window at home and broke his back.
“It could have happened to anyone,” he says. “But, hey, life goes on.”
Indeed, his life could have continued down much the same road (“I was a bit of a bad lad”) had Paralympian Ade Orogbemi not visited his school. He spotted Jama messing around at the side of a basketball court and asked him to come along to the local sports centre to try wheelchair basketball.
“I was reluctant at first,”explains Jama. “I liked hanging around with my friends and basketball seemed like a bit of effort. It took me about six months but I did eventually go. It was the best decision I have ever made.”
Jama says that wheelchair basketball changed his life. “It got me back on the straight and narrow,” he says. “I’m now my parents’ favourite son” – no mean feat in a family of 32 siblings and half-siblings.
Jama trains twice every day; two-hour sessions doing chair work, drills and matches. He plays most weekends in Super League’s Wolverhampton Rhinos. As if that wasn’t enough, the team has qualified for the European cup finals. Not to mention the GB team tournament in Australia in July, during which the Paralympics team will be chosen.
Doesn’t he get tired of the constant travelling? “What other jobs allow you to travel all over the world?” he asks.
Luckily his wife of one year loves the sport and watches enthusiastically from the sidelines. “Sometimes she gets a bit too excited,” Jama laughs.
His sports-mad siblings are also fans and are usually the ones shouting loudest at matches. He’s the only practising Muslim on the GB team and fits his training schedule around this. “The coach knows if I am five minutes late then it’s for a good reason,” he says. “In fact the best roommate I ever had [current GB captain] Jon Pollock used to get up at 6am and pray with me.”
Jama, says he “hates” losing. Only gold will do. “I think we have a really good chance of winning this summer,” he says. “It all depends on the day but we are more than able to beat everybody. I get goosebumps just thinking about it…”