“Basketball must be in my blood. I’ve played it on my feet, then on my wheels. I’ve been a player and now I coach,â€ says Caroline Matthews, a 42-year old wheelchair basketball coach from Sully.
And a successful coach at that. In 2015, she led the Cardiff Celts to become the British National League’s division two champions, securing promotion to division one.
“It was the sort of season that comes along only very rarely in a career. We won every game in the second division, ended up in the playoffs and won both our games to be promoted. It was a privilege to coach the team through that.”
But of course a stellar year doesn’t come easily and is nearly always the result of hard work:
“Last year, I qualified as a Grade 3 coach. I’m only the second person in the UK to achieve that. I learned so much on the course and I ploughed it all into my work with the Celts. I’m always learning. I find it very fulfilling.”
The former Paralympian, who played at the Athens and Beijing Games, describes her volunteering commitment as “at least another part time job, if not full time” which is no mean feat, given that she is a solicitor by day.
“I’m always either preparing for games, exploring new drills and theories, planning sessions, doing video analysis, making notes after a game or helping other coaches, basically, anything I can do to help my guys perform well.”
She also has international duties as the head coach of the Wales Under 23 Wheelchair Basketball Team. In 2015, she propelled them to victory in the annual Celtic Cup for the first time in the competition’s history. The team was unbeaten with four straight wins over Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Caroline’s work at the club though is not just about titles and trophies:
“The people involved in disability sport are often facing struggles in their lives. We often see players coming in who are timid and shy but, within a few weeks, they’re demanding the ball and enjoying all the banter. They develop all sorts of everyday skills and improve their confidence. We’re a real family.
“I’m humbled I’ve been nominated and thrilled to be shortlisted. I’m incredibly nervous because people will be looking at me as an individual rather than as part of a team. Saying that, this honour is the team’s. I worked really hard to ensure the season was a success but I couldn’t have done it without the talent around me.”