Paralympics perfect for a dream debut

Olympic feature on Paralympic GB wheelchair baskteball player Emily Scrivener, at Halstead Leisure Centre.
Olympic feature on Paralympic GB wheelchair baskteball player Emily Scrivener, at Halstead Leisure Centre.
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EMILY Scrivener could be forgiven for thinking her life had all but ended.

Unable to move in a hospital bed in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, her Essex-based family had been summoned by medical experts who believed there was a real danger she might not make it home.

There were many uncertainties over the coming weeks, except the heartbreaking news the Sible Hedingham-based PE teacher would never run alongside her students again.

But there was a bright spot on a dark canvas though, with the Team Great Britain (GB) holding their Paralympic training camp outside the 31-year-old’s bedroom window and ready to provide her beacon of hope.

Scrivener became wheelchair-bound when from a freak accident, which saw a large part of a tree fall and crush her spine while cycling through Cambodia in 2005.

But with endless hours of hard work, Scrivener could still realise her sporting dreams after putting herself in touching distance of a Paralympic place.

Laying on her front on a prone trolley, before a wheelchair was made, came her first meeting with a GB player (guard Clare Strange) at Stoke Mandeville Stadium (where the Paralympic Games was conceived); the daughter of her occupational therapist who suggested her physique and background could be just right for it.

And seven years on, she can barely believe she has come so far from the accident on her way back from voluntary teaching in Thailand to hoping to play alongside Strange at guard, widely considered the best player on the planet right now.

“I have given up everything and it means everything to me,” said Scrivener, a specialist guard. “I have been in sports all my life and always competed and taught children PE.

“The accident was a huge blow but when you are so close to death you are very, very grateful of life.”

She began playing for the Vixens in Bourne End, Hertfordshire, just off the M3 — a four-hour round trip from Sible Hedingham, near Sudbury.

But Scrivener, whose mum is her live-in carer, could no longer afford to keep travelling, having come across discrimination at many schools until she finally found work with charity Just Different, helping change perceptions in some of those very schools.

With British Wheelchair Basketball desperate to see a team created in the east of England though, she took on the daunting task of setting up her own side, Eastern Blue Stars, based in Sudbury, a more central location than others such as Bury St Edmunds.

As the self-appointed team manager, she managed to sign up some of the hottest properties in the UK to play alongside her, including Haverhill-based GB Paralympian Caroline Maclean, who she gets up with at 5am to train on their current gruelling programme of meeting a minimum of 15 hours a week.

In just one season the Sudbury side achieved what appeared impossible by winning the FSB Molten Sportserve Division One Women’s League — the top league in the country — at the first attempt.

“When we won the league we had made history that will probably never happen again, I was tickled pink,” said Scrivener, who has been named in the 15-strong squad GB ladies squad to face Germany and Holland in a crunch London 2012 Easter training tournament.

She said: “I am glad I still have a couple of months training before it happens. I feel like I will be ready by then.

“Coping with the pressure, personally, is my biggest thing; making the right decisions at the right time.

“I am really looking forward to it and I have never played the Germans or the Dutch and I really want to shine.”

Should Scrivener be picked, she could be making her first competitive appearance for her country in the Paralympics itself, having suffered a broken leg and a broken thumb after two previous call-ups, the first in the 2008/09 season.

But with time not on her side, she fears selectors could count her age against her.

“There is a massive younger generation pushing up and I am one of the older players being nearly 32 it is a real concern but all I can do is train harder,” added Scrivener, whose disability severely affects her balance and core strength.