By Abhimanyu Kulkarni
Chennai: As a group of the differently-abled whizzed around the basketball court in their wheelchairs at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor stadium in Chennai, Michael Rosenkrantz could be seen shouting instructions.
Rosenkrantz (56), a professional basketball coach, has been training differntly-abled athletes for the last five years and had recently visited Chennai. He lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he trains the wheelchair basketball team of the National Army.
“I used to coach my son’s basketball team many years ago. The progression from mainstream basketball to wheelchair basketball was not something I had planned, but I am enjoying this stint,” says Rosen.
He stumbled upon the concept of training the differently-abled during his stint with the National Trust in India from 2009-2012. The National Trust is an initiative by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which works for people with disabilities across the nation.
“From the time that I was 18 years of age, I wanted to live and work overseas. However, it wasn’t until the age of 51, when my children were fully grown, that I was given the opportunity through Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to become truly fulfilled in my life,” he says.
VSO is an international, development NGO that fights poverty through volunteering and works alongside communities and local partners worldwide to create lasting, positive change. Its programmes reach millions in some of the world’s poorest countries through improved access to services regarding education, health, HIV/AIDS, disability, and governance. VSO envisions a world without poverty, believing that this can only be achieved by working together.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Basketball has been Rosenkrantz’s first love since early days. An ardent supporter of LA Lakers, he admires Jimmy West, Chris Paul, and Steve Nash.
He does not see any difference between mainstream and wheelchair basketball. “Both are very intense sports. These [wheelchair] athletes are as fast and equally competent as their able-bodied counterparts. The rules are the same, the dribbling is the same. Probably, the only difference is that here there is the risk factor of the chairs colliding or getting stuck into each other,” he says.
Rosenkrantz believes that sport is a pleasure that every human-being is entitled to, irrespective of their physical or mental state, and points out the lack of accessibility in not just sports courts, but also most of the buildings in India.
On being asked about the state of the sports in India, he points towards the scarcity of participants in the current camp.
Choice International was instrumental in organizing this camp. They started this initiative earlier this year in Vishakapatnam, before coming to Chennai. “The aim of the tournament is to empower people with disabilities and also to see India field a team in the 2016 Paralympic Games. Given Michael’s past experience with Nepal army’s wheelchair basketball, he was an immediate choice for putting our athletes on the right track,” says Manoj Shome, Chief Executive of Choice International.
Thirty athletes participated in the camp, but most of them belonged to other paraplegic sports like swimming, table tennis etc.
“I have been swimming for one and a half years now, but I am now thinking of shifting to basketball. Michael sir is a very good coach. I see myself as a national level basketball player in the next five years,” says Velmurugan, a swimmer. Last month, Velmurugan competed against able-bodied swimmers and won a silver medal in the 400m butterfly at the State Aquatic Championship.
“Since Wheelchair basketball does not have many players in the state, we had to convince these athletes to come and try out the sport. They are picking up the game rapidly as they are basically great athletes,” says Rosenkrantz.
“There needs to be more growth. I’m currently coaching 5-6 people here. There must be hundreds of disabled people living in Chennai. Where are they?”