Last month, an agreement between Basketball Australia, Foxtel and the ABC ensured all 60 games of the WNBL season would be shown live across the country – and Bec Cole of the Southside Flyers was an unexpected beneficiary.
When Hannah Dodd travels to Tokyo for the 2021 Paralympics as part of the Australian women’s national wheelchair basketball team, it won’t be her first Paralympic Games.
The key difference this time, though, is that Dodd is competing in a different sport.
“I grew up horse riding,” said Dodd.
“My two older brothers and my mum rode horses, so I started riding at about four months old, which wasn’t agreeable to my medical team.”
Dodd was born with sacral agenesis and spina bifida and grew up wearing orthoses and using crutches to help her move around.
Despite protestations from her medical team, Dodd continued horse riding.
“My parents found that it was the place where I brightened up and laughed and giggled the most, so they kept it,” said Dodd.
“It actually worked out for my benefit. By the time I was two, I was riding independently and that actually gave me the strength to start walking at about two and a half.”
When she was 16 years old, she developed peripheral neuropathy, which made her an incomplete quadriplegic. This means that Dodd does have some degree of muscle movement and sensation compared to complete quadriplegia, which leads to a total loss of motor function and sensation below the level of the injury.
Her condition continued to deteriorate and at age 22, Dodd started using a wheelchair on a more consistent basis.
Not long after that came Dodd’s first Paralympics experience. After aiming to participate in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Dodd was unable to travel due to the equine flu outbreak. Dodd waited another four years and made her Paralympic debut in London. Unfortunately, her Paralympic experience did not go as planned.
“London did not go well for me,” said Dodd.
“Both me and my horse got sick on the trip over, so it was a bit of a battle to make it through the Games.”
When Dodd returned home, she had to make some decisions about her continuation of the sport. Because of the cost of equestrian and her deteriorating function, Dodd found it increasingly difficult to participate.
Wanting to stay active, Dodd decided to try wheelchair basketball for fun. But soon, it became about a lot more than just fun and Dodd developed a real passion for the sport.
“I probably should have known better, as I am quite competitive,” said Dodd.
“I started playing competitively about three or four months after taking up the sport, and the rest is history.
“I got invited to the Gliders in 2014, I played under-25s in 2015 in Beijing for the World Championships and then made the senior squad at the end of 2016.”
But wheelchair basketball also had a greater impact on Dodd, introducing her to veteran sports and the Invictus Games.
This connection is particularly important for Dodd this week as the country paused on Remembrance Day.
Now, Dodd is based on the Sunshine Coast and her interest in veteran sports has led her to train with social clubs like the the Suncoast Spinners, where she met veterans like ex-Air Force member and Invictus Games 2021 participant Stephen French.
French was medically discharged from the Air Force in November 1996 after suffering from multiple physical and mental injuries. As part of his recovery, French took up adaptive sports.
Meeting French was one of the reasons Dodd wanted to join other elite Australian athletes to support the commemoration of Remembrance Day, especially given the role sport can play in helping veterans as they transition out of service.
“I have family members, on both sides of the family, that have served,” said Dodd.
“I also have a brother who served in Afghanistan for quite a few tours. So for me Remembrance Day is obviously very important.
“Like a lot of Australians, we grew up with the idea of the Anzacs and that is a very strong part of our history and our identity as a country.
“I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as a younger person as I do now, being involved with Invictus athletes and being involved in para-sports and bringing veterans into our sport.”
For Dodd, sport has an important role in improving quality of life for veterans and their families. It not only has important physical benefits, but benefits for mental health too.
“Sport in general is physical,” said Dodd.
“They [veterans] come from a physical background so I think that part is really important.
“Sport is something you can really focus on and you can set goals in. I think it fits very well with the lifestyle they come from and it makes that transition back into society a lot easier.
“For me, sport was always something that made me feel not disabled, as weird as that is. I grew up with a disability, I always knew I was disabled, but it was never a big part of my identity. I think sport is a big equaliser, regardless of what sport it is.”
For Dodd, her family also played a significant role.
“I was not ever restricted by my disability, which made life a lot easier, to accept having a disability,” said Dodd.
“It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I am a disabled person riding’. It was, ‘I am just a rider’.
“So I think [sport can give] a very big sense of identity away from your disability but also incorporating your disability, which is sort of an oxymoron but that’s how it worked for me.”