Basketball kept me out of trouble
Abdi Jama took up wheelchair basketball after being paralysed in a childhood accident
Abdi Jama, 30, captains the GB wheelchair basketball team, who retained their gold medal at the European Championships last year.
My family moved from Somalia to the Toxteth area of Liverpool when I was six, while the civil war in Somalia was taking place. I don’t have many memories of my childhood before then. Arriving was a weird experience. I remember seeing snow for the first time – I was surprised at how cold it was. It took me a while to get used to my new life in the UK but I was lucky to have lots of family already living in Liverpool.
Sport has always been a passion of mine. I was a keen footballer, in fact I was even on Everton’s schoolboy books, and I also enjoyed athletics, basketball and cricket. Then I became paralysed at 14 when I fell out of a window and have been a wheelchair user ever since.
When the doctor gave me the news about my condition I recall saying: ‘OK, that’s fine.’ As a practising Muslim, I believe everything happens for a reason. The first year was difficult but I was lucky to have fantastic support from friends and family. I owe a lot to them for holding me together.
I wanted to continue playing sport when I started using a wheelchair. I liked the speed, aggression and competitiveness of basketball. I was introduced to wheelchair basketball by Ade Orogbemi, who was playing for Team GB at the time and came to my school to give a talk. It was one of the best things that could have happened as it meant I could spend my time focusing on improving my game, rather than getting into trouble with some of my peers.
Abdi Jama in action against Canada in the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester (Picture: SA Images)
I had to push myself three miles in each direction to get to training. It focused my mind and made me want to become a good role model for the community. Muhammad Ali is my hero – he’s an inspiration to me as a result of what he came through, what he stood for and what he achieved. I look up to him and have huge respect for him, especially as a fellow Muslim.
I always knew I had talent but never imagined I’d eventually be a world champion. Hard work will always get you to where you want to be. I hope to inspire other people to see that life has no limits if your mind is in the right place, regardless of your disability or background.
I pray five times a day. Needless to say, my week is quite busy but I still find time to rest and catch up with friends and family. I enjoy a day off on Mondays, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays it’s fitness and conditioning sessions in the morning before team work in the afternoon. I have a late training session on Wednesday evenings, away games on Saturdays and home games on Sundays.
I have quite a large family in both the UK and Somalia, and support them financially as much as I can. I became a father last year to my beautiful baby daughter, which was the proudest day of my life. I play for a German club team now and it’s incredibly difficult being away from her and my wife but I don’t mind working hard to support her. Thankfully, there’s Skype!
It was an honour and privilege to captain Team GB at the 2012 Paralympics. I was incredibly proud to lead our team on home turf. Sadly, we didn’t win a medal, finishing fourth, but we’re determined to beat that in Rio and reach the podium.
Jama is an ambassador for RGK, a company that makes bespoke wheelchairs for users ranging from young children to top athletes. www.rgklife.com
By Amy Dawson