“It’s super exciting! I just have to pinch myself to bring round the reality that I’m going to be in Tokyo. I just can’t wait to go out there and compete.”
Remarkably, at the age of 26, Maddie Thompson has been playing wheelchair basketball competitively for half of her life. After competing at her home Paralympics as a teenager, Thompson now goes into Tokyo as the team’s captain with plenty of valuable experience now in the sport.
Thompson hails from Hope Valley and is on the search to bring her first Paralympics medal back home to Derbyshire. We spoke to Maddie recently to find out more about her story and how she’s got to where she is today with Britain’s wheelchair basketball team:
“I met a Paralympic wheelchair basketball player on a family day out when I was ten years old. He had a false leg and I’m an amputee and that’s what drove me to him. I wanted to talk to him about stuff like breaking school uniform rules! In that chat, he advised me to give wheelchair basketball a try. I ended up going to the Sheffield Steelers club and 16 years later I’m still playing for them and I still love it there.”
“So I competed at London 2012 when I was 17, which was just a phenomenal experience. I don’t think anything can match a home Paralympics at such a young age. After that, I kept training hard and re-centralised to Worcester. I then found out that I was going to have a baby boy. I took time out from the sport for a while due to that and missed the Rio Games. So now I’m super excited to be heading to Tokyo and prove what I have to the world and have my son watching me from back home.”
As with our earlier interviews with Ryan Cowling and Hazel Chaisty regarding wheelchair rugby and para-archery, Maddie’s sport of wheelchair basketball doesn’t receive wide media attention throughout each year. For those not familiar with wheelchair basketball, Maddie gave us the lowdown as to how the sport works and how the event will run at the upcoming Paralympics:
“For the women’s event, there are ten nations competing and there are 12 nations going into the men’s event. The rules are quite similar to the running game. Obviously, in wheelchair basketball we can’t do a double dribble so when we stop pushing our chairs, we collect the ball and can re-start pushing and dribbling again. That’s just so that we can control our chairs. But apart from that, everything is pretty similar to the sport of basketball. We still shoot at a hoop that’s ten foot high. The rules are pretty much the exact same. I think it’s just a very exciting time for us to head to the Paralympics and showcase our sport, because it’s such a fast sport and it’s so much more physical than what you’d first expect.”
The build-up for these Games has obviously been far from ideal and Maddie admits that the sport had to be put aside for much of the time since the pandemic started. Team GB’s women’s wheelchair basketball captain used the unexpected amount of time off to go exploring the Derbyshire countryside with her son. It sounds like Maddie has really used the extra year to her benefit and comes into these Games with a great and positive mindset:
“Definitely, this is like no other Paralympics before. I’ve absolutely loved being outside in the Peak District. I live very close to Ladybower Reservoir. I did lots and lots of pushing with my son and getting out and about. The sport took a bit of a side note. It was a year more about life and personal experiences. But I think that’s added more to me now as a player. I’ve taken on the role of captain and assistant coach going into Tokyo. I’m just super excited now to see where all this will take me. As for home work-outs – I’m just glad we’re back on court for training again!”
I also asked Maddie about whether the sport has grown in participation at all levels since London 2012 and how accessible wheelchair basketball is for complete beginners to the sport at any age:
“Participation in wheelchair basketball grows every single year. There’s lots of opportunities to join wheelchair basketball clubs, for anyone reading this who’s interested in giving it a try…there’s lots of wheelchair basketball clubs that are distributed all over the UK. You can follow their social media accounts via British Wheelchair Basketball. I know many of the clubs are hosting events where people can try it out. Whether you’re disabled or not disabled, you can come down and try it out. My able-bodied sisters tried out the sport with me when I first started. It’s such a nice thing to have as like a family event. If you have a disabled child and your other family members aren’t, it doesn’t matter – it’s still an all-inclusive sport, you can play and have a laugh with family and friends.”
Maddie agrees that the wall-to-wall television coverage for this year’s Paralympic Games will do wonders for the sport and is impressed with how dedicated media coverage has been for the Games since London 2012:
“I think the coverage has been incredible on terrestrial TV over the years regarding the Paralympics. It’s really exposed the Games to the everyday public. I think it’s fantastic that there’s so many opportunities to show our sport. I think the wheelchair basketball will grab people’s attentions - it’s such a high-impact game, it’s nothing like what I first anticipated it being and I think it’s an incredible sport for people to watch.”
But what of Team GB’s chances of picking up a medal in the women’s wheelchair basketball event? It hasn’t happened before for the women’s side of the sport and Maddie knows that history is there to be made in Tokyo. This looks to be the biggest chance the team has ever had to get in among the medals. I asked Maddie whether landing a medal was the sole aim and what would she regard as being a successful Olympic Games for her personally?
“Definitely. We’re currently coming off the back of our most successful time ever. Britain are ranked second in the world right now. We’re hoping to bring home a medal. The men’s team have previously brought home medals before. There will be a bit of pressure on them to repeat that. For the women’s team, we’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to make history hopefully. Bringing back any kind of medal would be a huge, huge achievement. I’m just really excited to show what we can do to the world.”
“I’m always someone who says ‘aim for the moon and land amongst the stars’. A medal is obviously a huge motivator for everyone. I just want to make sure I’ve not left anything in the tank and that I’ve given it my all. What motivates me personally, is to have the opportunity to put my medal around my son’s neck. The possibility of that moment is what keeps me in the sport and keeps me going when I’m training at six o’clock in the morning doing weights. If we don’t win a medal, I think as long as we’ve enjoyed ourselves and really shown that we’ve been the best team we can be, then we can’t complain. I just want everyone the team to leave it all on the floor, have no regrets and to come back happy.”
Maddie’s tournament begins on August 25 which is just a day after the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo. Everyone at Derbyshire Media Company wishes Maddie and the rest of Team GB’s women’s basketball team the very best of luck in their quest for a medal!