Many sports athletes take delight in competing as an individual athlete as against taking part in a team sport. But for Janet Omole, 28, her decision to be part of the Edo State wheelchair basketball team at the Eko 2012 National Sports Festival after many years competing as a para-athlete was the best thing to happen to her career. In this interview with Bamidele Olowosagba, she spoke about the reason she dumped athletics for wheelchair basketball and other issues
Can you describe how you got involved in wheelchair basketball considering the fact that it is not common to see a physically challenged female athlete playing basketball?
I actually started playing basketball two years ago though I was formerly into athletics before then. It was when I saw the game in the television three years ago that I got attracted to it. I had wanted to start playing it since then, but there was no team in Edo State playing wheelchair basketball. It was when I came to Lagos in 2011 that I saw that the sport had already started in Lagos.
What really motivated you to stop para athletics and concentrate on basketball?
I think it was the love I have for the sport. It was not as if I don’t like athletics, but anytime I see physically challenged athletes playing basketball on the TV I feel challenged and wanted to be like them. By the time I joined a team in Lagos, I began to devote more time for it than athletics.
Do have any regrets dumping athletics for wheelchair basketball considering the achievement of the Paralympic team at the 2012 London Olympics?
I have no regrets dumping athletics for basketball because I have more joy playing basketball than when I was into athletics. Besides, I have gotten more fame competing as a basketballer than what I was getting in Athletics.
Any achievement for you so far in wheelchair basketball?
Though I have not won any trophy with the Edo State team since we started playing together early last year, but with our second consecutive third place positions at the first and second editions of Dr. Victor Ochei Wheelchair Basketball Championships in 2012 and this year in Delta and Lagos States respectively, I am very confident that very soon I will begin to win some titles.
You were at the second edition of Ochei Wheelchair Championships at the Indoor Hall of the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, how did you feel playing among the male players in the tourney?
It’s strange playing among the opposite sex. I have been playing among them virtually since I started playing the game. Since there is no tourneys for female wheelchair basketballers in the country, what the organisers have been doing is to make it mandatory for the male teams to include female players in their roster. It is mandatory for each team to feature at least one female player during a particular quarter of a match. This has been helping us to showcase our skills and get some attention from the public at major championship.
How would you rate the second edition of Ochei Wheelchair Championships?
I think the standard of play of all the teams that participated in this year’s championship has improved a lot. I was at the 2012 edition held in Delta state and I can tell you that all the teams have really improved. The only problem is how the sport can attract fans to the venue. We had huge crowd on the final which supposed not to be
Our thought initially was that by bringing the tourney to Lagos, it would attract spectators to the stadium more than what we saw last year in Delta state. But the reverse is the case. I think what was responsible for the low turnout of crowd was because the sport was not new to Lagosians anymore. Unlike in Delta State so many people came out to watch wheelchair basketball being played for the first time.
What are the challenges confronting the sport in Nigeria?
I think the major problem we are facing in wheelchair basketball is lack of facilities for us to train. Apart from Lagos and partly Delta State, there are no facilities in other states of the federation for those of us that are physically challenged to hone our skills. Many of the athletes usually travel all the way from their states to train and compete in Lagos because of facilities in the state. Dearth of tourneys is another problem we are facing in the sport. Apart from the Ochei championship and the National Sports Festival, there is no other competition for wheelchair basketball in the country. We need more tournaments and I also think it is high time we begin a wheelchair basketball league in Nigeria. This will help the growth of the sport in the country.
What are the reactions of your other physically challenged colleagues or friends now that you are into basketball?
They are happy for me and wishing me best of luck. I have a particular friend that always come with me to the stadium and when he sees us training or playing matches, he used to be surprised seeing us playing basketball on a wheelchair.