“I want to use my disability to help others. It’s a key to a door to help people who are struggling.”
Debbie Bashford is 46 and lives with a rare spinal condition. Due to an infection in her leg in 2005 which left her fighting for her life, she is also an amputee.
Despite the fact she is under doctor’s orders to take regular bedrest, Debbie’s passion for helping others is unstoppable. Under her direction, the Caernarfon Celts Wheelchair Basketball Club has grown into a huge success story, providing unrivalled opportunities in the area:
“I became paralysed from the waist down when I was 11. Inclusion didn’t exist in the 1980s and when it was time for PE, I was sent to the library. I’m now able to help people take up the opportunities that weren’t there when I was growing up.”
It’s a huge achievement for the club that two junior members were selected for the Welsh squad in 2015. But Debbie says it’s not just about playing for Wales:
“Not all clubs are able to cater for people with more severe disabilities or profound learning disabilities. But we wanted to be really inclusive and go the extra mile so we put on wheelchair basketball opportunities within our junior session, some of whom come along with support workers.
“Sometimes when I deliver boccia outreach sessions, people just want to talk and that’s fine. The social, psychological, emotional and mental side of things is just as important as the physical.”
Keen to ensure the club is fun for everyone, she provides members with newsletters, sports awards, fancy dress events and friendly fixtures.
She applies for sponsorship, liaises with social services and helps to fundraise. She attends all Wales trials in Worcester and travels to the Regional Performance Centre in Aberystwyth for the Wales Under 15s to coach sessions.
Debbie plays a key role on the North Wales Wheelchair Basketball Forum and organises the North Wales league and manages the Wales Under 19 squad.
And, unbelievably, it doesn’t stop there. Debbie and her committed team undertake a huge amount of outreach work.
They organized a five week playscheme during the summer holidays for 11-14-year-olds, most of whom were able-bodied. They were given the opportunity to try out the sports chairs:
“As soon as they see the chairs, they want to try them out. We’re able to give people an idea of what disability actually means.”
She upskills teachers to work with pupils who have a disability or impairment and she also finds the time to mentor and train young people to coach:
“We all work so well together. I’m so proud of the club. I tend to dodge award ceremonies. Being named a finalist in the Wales Sports Awards is for everyone at the club – the members, the parents, the support workers, all the coaches and volunteers. We’re all jigsaw pieces,” she insists.
“You can come through the doors with spots, stripes, four legs, two heads – it doesn’t matter. Everybody is welcome. As long as we have smiles and laughter, then I know we’re doing something right.”