Wheelchair basketball

Dartmouth twins headed to Canada Games with Nova Scotia Wheelchair Basketball

Sport welcomes both able-bodied and disabled players

Dartmouth twins Julia and Kayla MacKinnon don’t play many sports together, especially with Kayla’s cerebral palsy.

Yet, the 15-year-olds are about to play competitive wheelchair basketball for Team Nova Scotia at the 2019 Canada Games this February.

As sisters, Julia thinks they have an edge.

“We’re at each other a lot, and we’re more competitive around each other than some of the other players because we know each other so well,” she said after Saturday’s pep rally for the team at the Canadian Museum for Immigration at Pier 21.

Wheelchair basketball is unique because it welcomes both able-bodied and physically impaired players. Julia doesn’t have any physical challenges like her sister.

Kayla’s cerebral palsy was the result of a mild stroke she had as a baby. Although she can stand on her own, her motor functions on her right side are limited. Just reaching out her right arm is a challenge, and she needs surgery every few years to extend her arm’s muscles as she grows.

It has restricted her ability to play sports.

“Being on the team is good for me because I’ve never been able to play sports before at all. I’ve always had a lot difficulty,” she said.

Kayla started playing for Nova Scotia Wheelchair Basketball three years ago. A year later, the sport caught Julia’s eye and she started playing as well.

Assistant coach Cher Smith said their chemistry and support for each other is evident on the court. Sometimes, though, they end up having a little too much fun.

“I can’t put them on the same shift. I can’t put them on the same drills. They will just not leave each other alone. They’re really, really annoying,” she said, as both sisters laughed with her.

Members of Team Nova Scotia’s wheelchair basketball team at Saturday’s pep rally.   Miguel Santa Maria

Flipping, crashing chairs together

For Smith, who has been involved with the game for over 15 years as a player, national classifier, and coach, it’s the sport’s inclusive nature that makes it stand out.

But wheelchair basketball itself isn’t the only thing that’s unique — so is Team Nova Scotia.

“We’re diverse. We have two sets of twins. We have five people come from two different families on the team. No other sport has that,” said Smith. “They’re all stars.”

Teammate Dee Osmond, an able-bodied player, enjoys the camaraderie. A former competitive sailor, she started off as a volunteer before joining the team.

“We’re just such a close group. We keep cheering on each other. Everyone’s there kinda to support each other and to experience this together,” she said. “I’ve never felt that before in any other sport.”

They all look forward to showing off what they are capable of doing.

“When people come to the Games, they hear the hand rims rubbing, they smell the aluminum, they see people crashing and they see people flipping the chairs,” said Smith. “And your hands turn to meat, and you just hear the crowd gasping.”

More importantly, the players want others to know anybody can join wheelchair basketball.

“It’s just such a fast-paced, competitive, strategic game and I hope that people see that at the Games,” said Kayla.

Julia agreed.

“Anyone can play. You can go to Canada Games, even if you do have some restriction,” she said.