Wikinews interviews Australian Paralympic wheelchair basketballer Shelley Chaplin

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Listen to this interview.
Portrait of Australian wheelchair basketballer Shelley Chaplin, 2012.
Image: Australian Paralympic Committee/Australian Sports Commission.

Recently, Wikinews spent time with with Australian Paralympic wheelchair basketballer Shelley Chaplin.

((Wikinews)) Interview with Shelley Chaplin. First of all, what position do you play?

Shelley Chaplin: Usually a point guard.

((WN)) Right. And whenever I go to see the basketball in Canberra, we pass by a glass case. In the case is a guernsey with number twelve on it, and a big sign that says that this was the guernsey worn by Shelley Chaplin...

Shelley Chaplin: That's me! That's my...

((WN)) It's signed by the rest of the team, if you look — press your nose to the glass and look really close. How did that come to be there?

Shelley Chaplin: It's actually the singlet that I wore in Beijing. Usually you get people to sign stuff. Anyway, the AIS just asked everybody if we would donate something [...]. I wasn't using it so, yeah, I gave them that.

((WN)) Oh okay.

Shelley Chaplin: I don't think they have it... It's been there for a while now. It think that was a four year loan or something like that.

((WN)) I think it's been there for longer than that.

Shelley Chaplin: It's been there for longer than that. Or — it must be four years around about now. Went in just after Beijing.

((WN)) So they'll return that to you?

Shelley Chaplin: They'll return it at some point. I mean, I like it. It's nice to have it there. It's good that they have some stuff from wheelchair basketball there, and I don't need it, so, yeah.

((WN)) How did you get into playing wheelchair basketball?

Shelley Chaplin: After the Atlanta Paralympics actually. There was a welcome home parade in Melbourne. So I never knew anything about wheelchair sports before that. And I went to the parade, and I used to walk around, but that day I used a wheelchair because I was really tired, and someone just approached me and said "Hey, do you know anything about wheelchair sports? You should get involved!" And, yeah, so I did! I tried everything, and I liked basketball the most.

((WN)) And you're a three point player?

Shelley Chaplin: Three point five.

((WN)) I'd never seen the game before. My first experience of it was when the Gliders came out on the court for that first game [in London], and I was really taken with the sport from the word go. It has a sort of grace that normal basketball lacks. But otherwise it's very similar.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah! I think people are often quite surprised by wheelchair basketball, what it is when they actually see it. I think the name "wheelchair" basketball means disability obviously, but when you watch it there's nothing about disability to it at all. Just that we use wheelchairs, and that's it. It's just another sport.

((WN)) People in the press gallery were saying "I've just got to get out in a chair and..."

Shelley Chaplin: Try it! Yeah!

((WN)) So how did you get to go to Illinois?

Shelley Chaplin: After the Athens Paralympics...

((WN)) You won the bronze medal there?

Shelley Chaplin: No, we won silver in Athens...

((WN)) Silver in Athens, bronze in Beijing.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, while I was over there I met one of the American girls, and she was about to take up a scholarship there. And so I ended up meeting the coach, who was in Athens coaching the Canadian men's team. So I ended up meeting him, and chatting to him about maybe going over there, and then when I got home I followed it up, and they offered me a scholarship, so I took it. So he'd already seen me play at the Paralympics, and knew who I was, so it was good.

((WN)) Which lead to what we ran on the front page of Wikipedia.

Shelley Chaplin: Oh yeah! I saw that! That was great!

((WN)) That's why I rang up up and asked for your birth place. Somebody raised an objection, and said maybe she was born in the US.

Shelley Chaplin: Nope!

((WN)) I thought that was pretty spectacular, because there's not a lot of athletes in any sport that have done that [been All-American without being American].

Shelley Chaplin: Cool. Definitely cool.

((WN)) How did your team go while you were there?

Shelley Chaplin: While I was there we... I was there for five years. The first three years we were national champions.

((WN)) For five years from 2004 to 2009?

Shelley Chaplin: No, I didn't actually go until 2005. So I went in August of 2005. And I finished up in May of 2010. I went to five national championships, and we won three and came runners up in two.

((WN)) Wow!

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah! We had a good team.

((WN)) So you said you played for a club here in Melbourne as well?

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, I play for the Dandenong Rangers here. We've just won two championships in a row. So... hopefully three this year.

((WN)) Wow!

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah! It's pretty cool.

((WN)) That's a pretty amazing record.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah.

((WN)) And then of course there's the Gliders as well. You've got the gold... no wait...

Shelley Chaplin: No, not the gold! Not yet! Two silvers and a bronze!

((WN)) I was sure you'd be saying "I've already got the silver and the bronze. Give me the gold!"

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, that's exactly what I was saying! No, I think we just had a young team and...

((WN)) Well, the team's pretty much the same one as in Athens isn't it?

Shelley Chaplin: No! There was probably only four players from Athens that were the same. We've got a lot of young players that are just sort of coming into their own in wheelchair basketball, so.

((WN)) What I noticed was when I looked over the statistics of basketball over the time you've been playing, the scores have been going up.

Shelley Chaplin: Yes. I think that's partly to do with that we changed to a size six ball, so we went to a women's ball. Until 2006 we were still playing with a size seven, which is a men's ball. So we changed that. I think that helped with our statistics, 'cause it's easier for women to handle the ball and stuff like that. I also think there's been a big increase in the professionalism of wheelchair basketball internationally, so you have a lot of people who are training every day for this. Whereas I know leading into Athens not everyone was training full time. But now everyone's a full time athlete.

((WN)) So you are a full time athlete?

Shelley Chaplin: Yep, I was. Leading into London I was. So from halfway through 2011 till the Paralympics — so, probably a year — I was a full time athlete. So we trained three times a day, five days a week. Play on the weekends.

((WN)) So you got a grant from the government?

Shelley Chaplin: Yep, the Australian Sports Commission supports us. And so does Basketball Australia obviously. [...]

((WN)) That's pretty intense though. Have you taken a break since then?

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, since London I haven't played any basketball. Been doing a lot of different things.

((WN)) Like what?

Shelley Chaplin: Just gotten into hand cycling actually.

((WN)) Oh okay.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, so myself and one of my team mates, Leanne del Toso, who was in London as well, we have decided to do a fund raiser. So we're going to ride around the perimeter of Fiji. And so it's 550 kilometres in ten days. So I'm going to be on a hand cycle, and Leanne, who can walk, is going to be on a real bike. She has really weak legs. So we're going to do that. Raise some money and awareness for women in sport.

((WN)) Wow!

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, it's really exciting.

((WN)) When is that?

Shelley Chaplin: We go in June. But next month we're going to launch a big fund raising campaign to get together all the money to do it all. But yeah, it's pretty cool.
Shelley Chaplin's guernsey on display at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Image: LauraHale.

((WN)) Are you still with the basketball? Are you going to continue with that?

Shelley Chaplin: Yep! I do! So two weeks, no less than two weeks, the fourteenth of January, we go to the AIS for our first training camp of the Rio campaign.

((WN)) So I might be able to catch you guys again there.

Shelley Chaplin: From the fourteenth to the seventeenth.

((WN)) It must have been disappointing in London — Let me put it like this: I'm watching the game, and it's "oh no, they're losing" but you don't look like you're losing. You look like you're having the time of your life.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah! Definitely. I mean, what we play for is to play on the world stage and it is a lot of fun.

((WN)) Did you see how many people were there was?

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, it was insane. In-sane.

((WN)) I was staring up at the top and I could not see the top rows. They were completely in darkness.

Shelley Chaplin: There was so many people there, and they were all supporting us. It was so much fun. It was the best I've ever done. But yeah, of course it's disappointing, because you don't want to win silver, or lose gold, but...

((WN)) The silver's pretty good!

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, being second in the world's pretty good, definitely, but silver's tough.

((WN)) It's just that the Gliders have never won. They've never won the World Championship, they've never won at the Paralympics.

Shelley Chaplin: We've never won. Yeah, so obviously we wanted to change that. So yeah, definitely disappointing. We did what we were capable of. It wasn't like we underperformed. We didn't play badly. We just weren't quite good enough.

((WN)) Yeah.

Shelley Chaplin: And the Germans were very good. They worked really hard.

((WN)) Really good.

Shelley Chaplin: They were very good, so...

((WN)) You played pretty well.

Shelley Chaplin: We had patches where we didn't play well, but that's basketball.

((WN)) The whole team needed to find something and lift, because like... we interviewed one of your team mates, and she we can't expect to win if we're shooting 39 per cent. Then of course you went ahead and won two games shooting 39 per cent, which sort of made a bit of a liar out of her...

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah, well our biggest strength was our defence, so if we can play the defence, we can.

((WN)) The defence was where you won those games. You blocked them off. Particularly Mexico, they couldn't... Canada was even better. You kept on forcing turnovers, forcing timeouts. That was the defensive game, was the way you won it.

Shelley Chaplin: Absolutely.

((WN)) But Germany had a good defensive game as well. It must have been good, playing on your birthday.

Shelley Chaplin: It was really cool. The whole team, the whole Australian Paralympic team wished me happy birthday, the whole crowd sang me happy birthday and this sort of stuff. It was pretty special, but once you get into it, it's just another game. I know all the people were talking about the fact that it was my birthday, but it didn't [get to me]. It was fun. It was fun. Not a bad place to have your birthday.

((WN)) So how do you compare London with Beijing and Athens?

Shelley Chaplin: Well, I think every games gets a little bit better anyway. Like, Beijing was better than Athens and I think London was a lot better than Beijing again. But I think the special thing about London is that it was British, and so they obviously support Australians, but we were just athletes to them, I think. Whereas in Beijing we were still disabled athletes. But in London we were just athletes and they loved our sport and they understood our sport, which was really cool. The crowds... it was amazing.

((WN)) We have a lot of statistics on the response to it. Unfortunately, being in London I couldn't see the TV coverage.

Shelley Chaplin: Back here the ABC did a fantastic job with us. Everybody knows about the Paralympics. Everybody saw something.

((WN)) Apparently there was extra requests for the Gliders. So more people wanted to see you.

Shelley Chaplin: People like basketball. Basketball is very easy to relate to. Team sports are good to watch. But I think, like I was saying earlier, if you take away the wheelchair, there's nothing to do with disabilities. If an able bodied jumped into a wheelchair, it's exactly the same as us. Whereas an able bodied can't run against someone with blades. You know?

((WN)) Yes.

Shelley Chaplin: So I think that's why; it's very relatable, and obviously it's fun to watch.

((WN)) It seems be be getting bigger with each set of games.

Shelley Chaplin: Definitely.

((WN)) I've got figures from Google. London is twice as big.

Shelley Chaplin: Yep. Absolutely. The Paralympic movement is exciting because we're all amateur athletes, and we're all doing it because we love the sport. I think, during Beijing, I know in the Australian media they tried to get everyone to look away from our disabilities and look at us just as athletes, but I think in London they were like, here's their disabilities, here's what they are doing athletically, and combining the two, which made for amazing coverage, right? Cause everyone understood our disabilities but our sport as well.

((WN)) Some of the things you were doing. The three point shot from a chair.

Shelley Chaplin: Yeah.

((WN)) And the speed at which you moved at times, in excess of what someone without a chair could do. It's just a fabulous sport.

Shelley Chaplin: I think so!

((WN)) Are you're definitely up for Rio as well?

Shelley Chaplin: Yep. Definitely. Obviously, it will be my fourth games and I was going to retire after London, but I'm still good enough to do it, and I'm young, I'm only only 28. So, yeah, I think I can play another games in me. The Paralympic movement as I was saying is so exciting right now. I can't even imagine what Rio is going to be like. It's going to be massive. Yeah, I want to be part of it. And representing your country is a big deal.

((WN)) Well I look forward to seeing you there. Thanks very much!

Shelley Chaplin: No worries!


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