Focus on... Laurie Williams
With the London 2012 Games inching ever closer, wheelchair basketball player Laurie Williams is counting down the days to the biggest tournament of her career.
In her second year at Loughborough University, Laurie is not only studying hard for a degree in Social Psychology, she is also busy representing Team GB in Wheelchair Basketball and preparing for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Wheelchair basketball’s profile in the UK has risen over the years, with the GB teams going from strength to strength. Britain’s women’s squad, who are currently ranked sixth in the world, has even been putting some of the bigger teams through their paces; beating Germany and Canada in recent tournaments, ranked second and third in the world.
As Laurie explains:
“I’m quite proud at the moment of our team. We’ve come a long way - a really long way - in the past three years. They’ve made a lot of changes since the last Paralympics in Beijing. They’ve brought in a lot of different players; a lot of new talent.
“In 2011, we beat some teams that we’d never beaten before. We beat the Germans, they’re silver Paralympic medallists. And we beat the Canadians who are 2010 bronze World Championships medallists. So this is a big deal for us.”
I’m quite proud at the moment of our team. We’ve come a long way - a really long way - in the past three years. They’ve made a lot of changes since the last Paralympics in Beijing. They’ve brought in a lot of different players; a lot of new talent.
Laurie, who made her debut in the GB women’s team at the Paralympic World Cup 2009, has been playing wheelchair basketball for years. Suffering paralysis in her legs after catching a virus as an 18-month old, she found her way into basketball during her teenage years while she was competing for another sport:
“I used to do the odd bit of athletics, just to keep fit really. So I was at the Greater Manchester Youth Games doing some wheelchair racing and I got spotted there, by a coach who coached wheelchair basketball in Manchester, and she asked me to come down and try out.
“I really liked it. I thought it was a lot better than doing an individual sport and it was a great way to meet different people.”
When Laurie began to look at universities and where to study, Loughborough was always her first choice:
“There were loads of different reasons for coming to Loughborough University. The course was one of them; it’s one of the only universities in the country that does social psychology and that was important for me. The sport as well, obviously. I applied for the 2012 scholarship and got it and the facilities are really good.
“But the atmosphere was also a big factor. It’s one of the best student experience universities in the country.”
Social Psychology is an important aspect of Laurie’s life and her department’s support in her sport is crucial for helping her to successfully balance coursework and training
“They’re not particularly used to having any athletes in their department. But they’re very proud and have been very supportive; they’ve never stopped me from doing something. Last year I was away at various tournaments and they helped me prepare for missing so much and gave me all my lecture notes in advance.”
Laurie, who has a 2012 scholarship and British Wheelchair Basketball based at the University’s Sport Park, has also found the support of the University’s services invaluable: “The support services are really good. I get a mentor through the sport scholarship and she’s brilliant in making sure I keep on top of everything and that I have no clashes. There’s the powerbase gym and we use the physiotherapy at lot. It’s great to have it all based on campus; it's really convenient.”
As part of the GB squad for wheelchair basketball, Laurie’s hoping for her team to achieve great things at the London 2012 Paralympic Games this September, but is making sure she’s keeping her expectations in check:
“We’ve got a lot of preparation tournaments; we’re hopefully going to go to Canada and Australia and we’ve also got some tournaments in this country and in Europe. These tournaments are crucial for us as we play teams that are in our pool and that we might meet at the 2012 Games.
“Because it’s a home Games, there’s a lot of pressure on you. To be honest I’m trying not to think about too much about what will happen and how we’re going to play. All we can do now is train really hard and hopefully we’ll play the best we ever have and that will mean a medal.”
With all the pressure of the 2012 Games, the focus on what comes after September seems a long way off. However Laurie has been thinking about what might come next both in her sporting career and from her course:
“Obviously, because it is in London, there’s a lot of focus on this year. But the squad that we’ve got is a really young squad - I think six or seven of us are under the age of 23 - So they’re saying that Rio is going to be the year, even though it’s another four years away.
“Within British Wheelchair Basketball they always say – especially to the younger players – you have to put education first because basketball won’t last forever. If you get injured especially, and you can’t play again, you don’t want to be at a dead end with nothing left to do. Even after Rio, I’m only going to 24, but I know I don’t want to and can’t stay in basketball forever. I would like to expand in other areas and follow some of my other interests.”