SLAM DUNK: Wheelchair Basketball player Steven Elliot, proud recipient of one of the first para-athletic university scholarships in the country.
SLAM DUNK: Wheelchair Basketball player Steven Elliot, proud recipient of one of the first para-athletic university scholarships in the country. Greg Miller

Paralympics 2020 is no hoop dream for Gympie athlete

WHEELCHAIR Basketball doesn't come cheap - just ask Gympie para-athlete Steven Elliot.

Having played the game since he was 14, he's well aware of the costs of keeping up appearances on the court.

"It's a very physical game as you'd expect," he says.

"There's a lot of rough and tumble and because of that maintenance costs for my chair can be pretty high."

It's one of the reasons he's excited to receive one of the first para-sports scholarships in Australia.

"It's so great, it's definitely been a huge deal for me," he says.

Steven is one of three recipients of the University of the Sunshine Coast's inaugural Sports Elite and Education Dual Stream (SEEDS) program.

It marks the first dual para-athletics and academic scholarship to provided anywhere in Australia.

"Playing in the national league, which runs for six months every year, so that balance between training and study doesn't always come easily," Steven says.

It provides a stipend of $2500 per semester, allowing him some relief for chair maintenance and allotting more time his intense training schedule.

"I'm at the gym four to five times a week and I've got as many sessions on the actual court as well," he says.

"It's full on, and having the access to the all of the facilities and equipment as well has been a big help."

Pursuing a degree in sports science, the scholarship will also be a boon academically.

A natural athlete all his life, with an aptitude for rugby and running, Steven didn't let the diagnosis of a debilitating neurological condition at 13 stop him from following his passion.

"I'd never been into basketball before," he says, "But less than a year after I moved to the chair I really took to it."

The game itself is an intense experience, with high speed collisions and chairs being knocked precariously off-balance a regular feature.

Steven is currently in training for the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships, taking place in Canada next year.

"It's my main goal at the moment - making the team," he says.

"The scholarship is going to help me get there as well."

Since picking up the sport, Steven has gone from success to success, captaining the Queensland Rolling Thunder and selection for the Under-23 National Team.

Steven's ascension in the sport coincides with what has been a watershed moment for para-sports both in Australia and internationally.

"I don't remember ever having this visibility in the sport before."

The fresh attention and publicity the Rio 2016 Paralympic games has received has done wonders to bring new fans to the sport.

"I know a lot of people who've haven't really been watching the main games but can't wait for the Paralympics," he says.

It's had a noticeable effect on Steven's games too.

"I've seen a huge improvement in the visibility of wheelchair basketball," he says.

"They're actually broadcasting para-sports way more than they ever used (to)."

This new attention, he hopes, will lead anybody currently living with disabilities towards taking up some kind of sport.

"They should really be giving it a go - it does wonders," Steven says.

"Not only for your physical health but it goes a long way in improving your mental well-being."

Following next year's championships, Steven has his eyes set firmly on an appearance at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

"It's the next big goal for me - what I'm driving towards."

Gympie Times


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