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Wheelchair team going for fifth world title

Elmira’s Katie Harnock will be part of the Canadian women’s national wheelchair basketball team striving for a fifth straight gold medal at the world championships this summer.

Harnock was named to the national team after a four-day selection camp in Vancouver. Joining her will be Elmira’s Sheila Forler Bauman as the team’s physiotherapist.

Elmira’s Katie Harnock competing in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Harnock will help the women’s national team defend their world championship title in Birmingham, England in July.
Elmira’s Katie Harnock competing in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Harnock will help the women’s national team defend their world championship title in Birmingham, England in July.

Harnock, 26, won gold with the national team in 2006 and was part of the squad that finished fifth at the Paralympics in Beijing. Forler Bauman travelled with the team to the Paralympics, but this is her first trip to the worlds, which are held every four years.

Forler Bauman noted that there was a steep learning curve when she first started working with wheelchair basketball players.

“I had covered a number of sports in the past as a physio, but the disability sports are interesting and challenging in a different way.”

Several members of the team have spinal cord injuries involving the thoracic spine, which means they don’t sweat normally. The support staff has to use other methods, such as ice vests, to cool them off. There is also the ergonomic aspect of wheeling and playing, and trying to reduce injuries and maximize efficiency.

Forler Bauman also does a lot of problem solving between competitions, helping the players find medical practitioners and giving advice on how to treat injuries and take medications without running afoul of doping rules.
When the team isn’t training, the players are spread across the country: four hail from British Columbia, two from Alberta, three from Quebec, two from Ontario and one from Saskatchewan. The team often holds camps in Alabama because four of the women are studying on wheelchair basketball scholarships there. Harnock is one of them, playing for the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Wheelchair basketball is a fast and exciting sport that people often aren’t aware of because it doesn’t get a lot of television coverage, Forler Bauman said. It takes a long time to learn the skills and strategy involved, with the result that the players on the women’s team range in age from 21 to 49.

Wheelchair basketball athletes are classified between 1.0 and 4.5, based on how much trunk balance and trunk rotation they have. Those at the upper ranges of mobility, class 4 and 4.5, can walk but have some disability that prevents them from playing on their feet. At the other end of the spectrum, class 1 players are often strapped in above the waist and have minimal balance and trunk rotation.

Teams are allowed to have a total of 14 points on the floor. Players with higher classification numbers tend to be shooters, while those with lower numbers are typically defenders.

The Canadian women’s team has won the world title four of five times since the women’s championship started in 1990. The team’s first challenge on the way to contending for a fifth title will be the Osaka Cup in Japan Feb. 16-21.

“It’ll be a busy year leading up to that, but the group seems to be very focused on what they want to do,” Forler Bauman said. “I thoroughly enjoy the sport, and I work with a great group of athletes.”

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