Vikings on Wheels is a club wheelchair basketball team that competes in the Wade King Student Recreation Center every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 6-7 p.m.
L.C. Osadchuk is the current club president and a third-year graduate student in the Western Washington University anthropology program.
Before coming to Western, she said she played in Bellingham’s gang ball, which was a group of both disabled and non-disabled people with spinal cord injuries who played a modified version of half wheelchair rugby and half basketball.
“As time went on, my own disabilities progressed to the point that I needed to start looking at adaptive sports,” Osadchuk said. “And so I was one of the first founding members of the team [in 2018].”
When COVID-19 hit, she said a lot of the original members had graduated before they were able to form another team again. Now, the team has been working on recreating its cohesive bond and looking for more people who want to get some exercise in while having fun and trying something new.
Micah Campbell passes the ball to teammate Hunter Warren during the team’s practice in the Wade King Student Recreation Center on Thursday, April 21. The squad is made up of disabled and non-disabled members, and they are looking for new members to join this summer. // Video by Drew McFall
Bonnie Jones-Hunter, the head coach of the team, previously coached at Seattle Adaptive Sports for a junior prep team. She said when she moved to Burlington, one of the players a couple of years ago saw her and asked if she wanted to come to Bellingham to coach, and she accepted.
“It’s a bonding experience when you have team sports all around, especially when you allow able-bodied folks as well as people in wheelchairs,” she said. “They get a better perspective from where we sit and what we do and how we can actually work hard. … Inclusion is what it’s really about.”
Assistant Coach Angela Romeo said as many as 15 people have shown up to practices this year, but they are averaging around nine this quarter.
She added that they usually only play during the academic year, but they may be doing some tournaments this summer such as the Spokane Hoopfest, which they’ve done in the past.
Stevie Cairns, a Western alumnus, joined the team in the fall quarter and has loved it ever since. The main goal, Cairns said, is for the team to have fun, play and compete.
“[Western] is really the only access to wheelchair basketball in the county to where you can hoop like this,” Cairns said. “Getting access to competition for disabled people is awesome, I love it. It’s a huge part of my week playing here. It’s an outlet that isn’t that common to have, so you have to take advantage of it when you can see it.”
He added that the team provides the opportunity to meet and learn about different types of people who you may not otherwise meet.
Members of the wheelchair basketball team play a 3-on-3 pickup game during their practice on April 21. The team is hoping to eventually grow into two separate teams, a competitive team that would travel and a recreational team that would play for fun. // Video by Taras McCurdie
Osadchuk hopes to eventually have two separate teams: a competitive team that would go to tournaments and a recreational team that would play for fun.
“We would also love to have more non-disabled and disabled participants because we want to change the idea of what disability is on this campus and how to interact with disabled students,” she said. “Adaptive sports are for everyone, not just disabled people. [We are] trying to change the perception of disability and show people that it’s not a bad thing necessarily. It can be really fun to be disabled, it’s just another way of moving in the world.”
Osadchuk added that the group gives non-disabled people a chance to play a sport in a wheelchair, and people who have tried it said it was way more fun compared to basketball standing up.
“I think it really opens up their minds to what the possibilities are,” she said. “And when they go out after they graduated or whatever, and they’ve got to work with a disabled person, they’re going to see us as functional, capable and team members versus just looking at us like ‘Oh that disabled person who can’t do anything.’”
Taras McCurdie (he/him) is one of two copy editors for The Front this quarter. He is an aspiring sports journalist entering his final year at Western Washington University (WWU). Outside of school, you can find him freelancing for local newspapers, playing on the WWU club tennis team or running on the treadmill at the Rec Center. When chilling at night, he listens to throwback slow jams and ’90s hip-hop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drew McFall (He/him) is a sports and recreation writer for the Western Front this quarter. He is a news editorial major with a minor in communications. He wants to be a sports journalist or broadcaster. As a reporter, he wants to focus on WWU sports teams and players. In his free time, he loves watching sports, playing sports, and running on trails.