Inside Lines: How GB's wheelchair wizard climbed brokeback mountain

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The Independent Online

By its very nature disability sport can be both depressing and uplifting. Depressing when you realise what participants might have achieved with bodies that fully operate; uplifting when you encounter tales like that of 26-year-old Abdi Jama, whom we met at the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester last week.

Abdi is a devout Muslim who came here from Somalia as a five-year-old and was raised in Toxteth, one of the roughest suburbs of Liverpool. What makes him remarkable is that he has 32 brothers and sisters – his late father had five wives – and was a talented goalkeeper for Everton Schoolboys before a freak accident resulting in a fractured spine left him a quadriplegic at 14. Now he has become one of world's best wheelchair basketball players, his shooting skills helping Britain win a bronze medal in the Beijing Paralympics. Yet even more remarkable is his philosophy.

"Breaking my back was the best thing that ever happened to me," he tells us. "I was running around with a bad crowd in Toxteth, and I know I would either be dead or in prison like most of them if I hadn't had that accident. I see it as a blessing in disguise."

He has no doubt he would have become embroiled in the gang culture of guns and knives. Instead he seems the happiest of fellows, content with his lot and just about to embark on a four-month stint in a professional league in Australia with the Perth Wheelcats.

"It was a fluke accident," he explains. "I was sitting on a window sill and there was a curtain over the window which I didn't realise was open. I leaned back, went straight through it and woke up two weeks later to find I was in hospital with a broken spine." He took up basketball as part of his rehab. "I'd hoped to be a professional footballer but these things happen. It's a part of life. Being in a wheelchair has never really seemed to bother me. I have a close family and they are all very supportive."

Abdi's mother and several of his siblings and relatives are in Liverpool ("a whole village of us") but he lives alone in his own apartment. "I made up my mind to look after myself almost from the day I came out of hospital."

He says he can't remember all the names of his brothers and sisters, although one of them, an 11-year-old sister is a promising athlete.

Says the GB coach, Australian Murray Treseder: "Abdi was the key to Britain winning the bronze in Beijing when we beat the USA. He is probably the top shooter in the world, very smart and with a bit of rat-like cunning in his play, a great inspiration to the team." And to sport.

Ear we go again

Not quite so inspirational is another sporting immigrant, the unbeaten heavyweight boxer Derek Chisora, who gave an unpleasant imitation of Mike Tyson when blatantly biting the ear of opponent Paul Butlin on Friday night.

He escaped deserved disqualification as he did it on the blind side of referee Dave Parris who later deducted a point when Chisora swore at Butlin. Unlike Abdi Jama, the British title contender, 25, comes from an affluent African background (his family are landowners in Zimbabwe), went to public school and lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, which is hardly Toxteth. Del Boy has to be sorted by the Board of Control, and it needs to be more than an ear-bashing.