21 December 2023

Wheelchair basketball a winner for 11-year-old Lachlan Rice

| Kellie O'Brien
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Wheelchair basketball Lachlan Rice

Wheelchair basketballer Lachlan Rice can’t wait to get to training on Thursday nights. Photo: Wollongong Roller Hawks.

Using a wheelchair because of fibrous dysplasia in his leg, Albion Park 11-year-old Lachlan Rice discovered the joys of wheelchair basketball a year ago.

A year on, and no longer needing a wheelchair after surgery, Lachie’s love for the game has meant he’s continued playing – and earned himself Wollongong Roller Hawks End of Season Development Award this month (December).

Mum Sam said little did she know the impact wheelchair basketball at Shellharbour City Stadium at Croome Road would have on him when he started in December last year.

“He was invited to the birthday party of a friend, and he actually didn’t want to go because in the November he was placed in a wheelchair due to having fibrous dysplasia in his leg,” she said, of the condition which occurs when abnormal scar-like tissue replaces healthy bone.

“They didn’t know at that point what they were going to do, so he was put into a wheelchair.

“When we went to the birthday party, a lady come up to us from the Croome Road complex and said, ‘You know they do wheelchair basketball here?’

“And that’s how he ended up playing wheelchair basketball.

“He’s actually not in a wheelchair now – they’ve since done surgery – but he still loves going.”

Sam said Thursday was Lachie’s favourite day of the week.

“I finish work at 5:30 on a Thursday. Basketball starts at 6:30,” she said.

“By 5:31, 5:32, I normally either receive a phone call or a text message telling me it’s time to go to basketball.”

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She said a big part of it was the community.

“The whole group of people there, even from the time we started with the unknowns of Lachie and what was going on, were very supportive,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what walk of life you come from, it’s a very supportive community.

“It was very good for Lachie’s mental health because he was a contact sport kid – he played sport four days a week.

“To be put into that position, it was very nice to have support around us.”

Sam said his sports background included being in the advanced team for soccer, but now “with basketball, he’d go every day if he could”.

“He keeps them on their toes. They’ll say, ‘Let’s have a little break’ and he’s like, ‘No, come on.’”

Lachie’s development coach Brian Gardner, who was awarded Outstanding Contribution to Slam Down Under during the awards, agreed and said he received the award because of his “hunger, desire and enthusiasm”.

Brian said one of the great things about wheelchair basketball was that it levelled the playing field, making it easier for children to play against adults due to taking away the height advantage.

“A well-trained child in defense and working with a team can be as effective as an adult,” he said.

“So with Lachie he has an endless amount of enthusiasm and energy.

“He’s fantastic to be around – he’s just a little spark.”

Sam encouraged other parents to get their kids involved in the Thursday night development team at Shellharbour stadium, regardless of whether they had a disability.

“It would be nice if there were some more kids,” Sam said.

“We did go up to Penrith a couple of months ago; there was a kids’ clinic up that way, so he got to play with some of the kids out there which was nice.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a disability, as Lachie doesn’t have a disability.

“Just because someone’s in a wheelchair doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any different.

“It’s a wonderful community and I think a lot more people need to be involved in it.”

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Brian encouraged teens and young adults to get involved too, but warned it wasn’t for everybody.

“It is very hard work. There are a lot of skills that are not so easy to develop because you’re dealing with a chair and a ball,” he said.

“It’s a life skill to stay composed in the heat of battle … that’s going to help teach you teamwork, communication, coping with adversity, coping with stress, having to push when your body says, ‘Man, I’ve had enough.'”

Brian said alongside training were opportunities for younger wheelchair basketballers to play club challenges organised by Wheelchair Sports New South Wales.

While the development group doesn’t start up again until February, Brian will work with Lachie and his on-court rival, his brother, over the holidays to further develop his skills.

“I love coaching and teaching when you’ve got a kid that applies himself and has the desire,” he said.

Sam said Lachie’s medical journey wasn’t over, with a minimum of two more surgeries to undergo.

“He’s got a plate now in his leg, which is doing what they hoped it would do – support the leg a little bit more and make the bone grow around his tumour – but he’s got to have that taken out, because he’s so young and he will grow,” she said.

“Then he’s got a second tumour, so they’ll do that one as they couldn’t do both at the same time.

“But he’s actually now just running around my house, which is great.”

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