Plymouth Storm


Contributor Richie Bolgiani explores disability within sport and finds out more about wheelchair basketball team Plymouth Storm

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When you hear disability and sport what do you think? Maybe a slower version of the game? Well I can tell you that’s not the case. Let’s take wheelchair basketball for example, having watched it and attended some training sessions let me tell you that it’s actually full of action and is just as fast if not faster than the standard game.

There is a wheelchair basketball team in Plymouth and has been for a few years now. To give you a brief view into what the game is like, I’ve spoken to a couple of the players from Plymouth Storm and the man who set the team up. With the Paralympics just around the corner, I hope to show you the diversity there is within the team and that you do not have to be in a chair to be able to play. This is a big misconception that surrounds many disability sports.

Aaron Blyth Palk set up Plymouth Storm, and he has always been honest about how he himself ended up in a chair. At the age of 18, he went to the beach with some mates and decided to climb some cliffs, to try and take a short cut back to the car. It was only after reaching the top he realised that he had nowhere to go, so he tried to climb down. This resulted in him falling and doing a substantial amount of damage to his body and his back. The fall left Aaron with a broken back and he was paralysed from the chest down.

Aaron Blyth Palk, Coach and Founder of Plymouth Storm

After the accident, he spent three months in rehab in Cardiff and then came home to what must have been very different world. Having known Aaron before and after the accident, I have to say that if anything he had become far more determined to succeed.

He set up Plymouth Storm because he felt there was nothing in the area and the nearest team was in Exeter, who he was playing for at the time. After doing some research into disability sports, he found that people wanted a much more local team, and with that Plymouth Storm was born.

It took an entire year from conception to training, which was full of meetings and planning between Aaron, the council and other organisations before the team was able to start training. Since then, they have some fantastic seasons as well as some which weren’t so great, but there was initial success for less experienced players who won a competition at the University of St Mark & St John, which included teams from Cornwall to Bristol.

Since then, it has proven somewhat difficult to draw new players into the game. I think that this could in part be because potential players who are not in a wheelchair think that they can’t play the game. There’s a real need for better signposting towards disability sports across Plymouth. This includes getting better access to both mainstream and non-mainstream schools across the city and local areas and physio departments.

In my next article, I’ll be talking to a few of the players who have very different disabilities, to find out what they get from being able to take part in the sport and how it has helped them.