CORNWALL PEOPLE: WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL STAR MARK STEVENS
Wheelchair basketball star and coach Mark Stevens tells Ellie Smart how he has dealt with the many challenges life has thrown at him...
Wheelchair basketball coach Mark Stevens was born six weeks prematurely, he tells me, matter-of-factly. The wheelchair basketball player, and a double leg amputee from St Ives was born with a genetic disorder known as Majewski syndrome. This meant that Stevens’ was born without a tibia bone and leading to his knee and ankle joints being distorted. tA fifteen months old, his parents took the difficult decision to agree to amputation. But his resulting disability has never stopped Mark from playing sport, something he has always been extremely passionate about. Mark started playing wheelchair basketball in his teens - and has never looked back.
Without it I honestly don’t know what I would do,’ he says of the sport. It has given me some of the best things that have happened in my life.
Having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want to do. In a sense having a disability has given me much more, as I stand out in a good way and it has given me so many opportunities, I am blessed for where I am today.’
As well as carrying the Olympic torch in 2012, Stevens was part of the team that won the first ever wheelchair basketball university championships in 2014 and he has numerous awards and trophies for his sports skills and leadership.
Mark has great aspirations for the future. As well as playing competitive matches up, he runs weekly coaching sessions for Cornwall Cougars Wheelchair Basketball team in Truro and he is keen to continue to promote disability sport - and his ultimate aim is to lead out the team at the Paralympic Games.
Following is double amputation above the knee the aim was for him to walk with prosthetics. I vaguely remember how difficult it was to walk with them, but it was an accomplishment in my eyes. Just because the amount of time and effort as a young boy I put into being able to walk like a “normal” person. And the amount of time, money and effort my parents put into me at such a young age.
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When I was six years old I got chosen to trial and test brand new legs known as the Total Knee, these legs gave me the opportunity to feel and look like all the other children and my friends.
Throughout school I changed my legs every so often when I was growing. I was very lucky as I had a great support unit in my parents and my various friends. Being quite a popular lad I wasn’t bullied that often, but when I was the boys and girls who I was friends with soon sorted that out.
Wheelchair basketball came into my life at quite a late stage, I believe I was about 18 or 19. My friend Steve Hillman who works for the Cornwall Sports Partnership set up a brand new club and asked if I was interested,’ Steve continues. I never really gave wheelchair basketball much thought until then. I’m pretty keen to do anything, so I said why not, gave it a go and absolutely loved it. I’ve never been a team where there were other disabled people and this was my first disabled sports team. Just having people around me who are also disabled made me feel better as I knew that I’m not the only one suffering from a disability that loves sport as much as I do.
He says wheelchair basketball has helped him become a better person. He undertook a university degree based on coaching at Worcester and has since undertaken several additional coaching courses. While at university I learned so much more about wheelchair basketball as the men and women GB wheelchair basketball teams were based there.
So I watched and even trained with them on occasions to learn and improve my knowledge of the game.’
And now he has returned to Cornwall and hopes all his training and knowledge will help the Cornwall Cougars team. Seeing the players improve over the last 12 months has given me a great since of achievement as I can see what I’ve installed in them they have taken on board and playing nice basketball,’ he says.
So what is the best thing about wheelchair basketball? I like seeing myself and other people achieving the goals they set themselves,’ he says.
I love the game so much, I love scoring crazy baskets, love seeing my team doing really well - I just generally love the sport. The only thing I wish that could have happened, is that I wish I found the sport 10 years ago. If I was playing and training regularly there is no doubt in my mind I would be a GB player by now.
He admits his aspiration for the future are big. I currently work in sports development so I want to progress in that field in the future. I also have a great passion for disabled sports. I want to work in the disabled sports field. My ultimate dream would be to lead out a Paralympic team to the Paralympics at some stage in my life. I want to be in charge of it all basically!
In wheelchair basketball I want to play in the highest division I can, whether with Cornwall or another team. I just want to play for a team that are very competitive.’
He admits that this will probably take him out of his home county. Jobs in Cornwall that are sport-related are through and far between,’ he says.
Sport has been a big part of my life. I have a degree in sport, I work full time in sports development and I play sport every week. Without it I honestly don’t know what I would do. It has given me some of the best bits that’s happened in my life. From carrying the Olympic torch in 2012 to winning various trophies like the first ever wheelchair basketball university championships in 2014.
I’ve met some of my closest friends because of sport. Going to conferences in the House of Commons because of my past sports leadership qualities and awards. As you can clearly see sport has been a massive part of my life even with having a disability. Having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want to do. Yes it might be harder and more challenging, but I will get what I want done if I put my mind to it.
In a sense having a disability has given me much more, as I stand out in a good way and it has given me so many opportunities, I am blessed for where I am today.’
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life November 2015.