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Heart like a wheel
Jack Kosterman doesn’t want to be anyone’s inspiration or even a trailblazer — changing people’s perceptions about wheelchair athletes.
“I am not inspirational,” Kosterman said, sitting in the living room of his family’s Fort Langley home.
Summarizing the thoughts of Pat Anderson, one of the top wheelchair basketball players in the world, and one of Kosterman’s role models, Kosterman said: “Inspiration is a double-edged sword.
“On one hand, it is, ‘Oh wow, you are a great wheelchair basketball player.’
“But on the other hand, it is, ‘You are good, for someone like you.’”
Watching Kosterman move around, you wouldn’t believe he requires a wheelchair and is one of Canada’s top wheelchair basketball players.
Kosterman, who turned 15 earlier this summer, is able to walk without the aid of a cane, crutches or wheelchair.
He can walk short distances with no problems, but the longer he walks, the more he starts to feel a lingering pain.
“It gets inflamed really quickly,” he explained.
With a family history of knee problems, and having been overweight as a child, when Kosterman experienced knee pain he didn’t put much thought into it.
But when he was 10, he slipped on the bottoms of his pyjamas, and the resulting fall broke his growth plate and dislocated his femur, which connects the leg to the hip.
It was the worst pain he ever felt.
Kosterman learned he has avascular necrosis, or AVN, a disease where there is cellular death of bone components, due to the interruption of the blood supply. Without blood, the bone tissue dies and the bone collapses.
He has a pin in each hip and while a semi-experimental drug, Pamidronate, has slowed down the deterioration, Kosterman expects he will need “a few” hip replacements in his lifetime.
Kosterman has always loved sports and one day dreamed about playing professionally.
He began playing basketball, among other sports, when he was five, and was just starting to get into rugby prior to the deterioration of his hip.
Being in a wheelchair is not very conducive to playing sports.
Kosterman admits he went through the ‘why me’ phase.
“More than I would have liked to,” he said.
But a school occupational therapist, Kari Oleson, put him in touch with B.C. Wheelchair Basketball. He attended one of their events and was hooked.
“Rugby was my favourite sport and basketball was probably my second favourite,” he said.
“Wheelchair basketball is a more physical game than stand-up basketball, so it combines the two perfectly for me.”
Growing up, Kosterman was bigger than average and not overly adept at running.
“It worked out well for me because I had a lot of upper body strength but wasn’t a very fast runner,” he explained.
“So I kind of took what I was good at from basketball — dribbling, shooting, seeing the court well — but all of a sudden I was fast (in the wheelchair) because I had some upper body strength.”
But while he loved being back on the court, it was still a struggle.
“If you really want to be good, you have to train a lot.”
Kosterman spends about 25 hours a week, working on his game, or working out at Fitness Unlimited.
The problem is that there are not too many other wheelchair basketball players around.
“I am usually alone, I have a couple of players I train with occasionally, but they are not always there.”
By the end of a long week, motivation can be an issue.
“That was a crappy thing (working out by myself),” he said. “It was tough, at the end of the week, you don’t really want to be at the gym.”
Watching his son struggle did prompt his father, Mitch, to establish the Langley Gold Rush, a local program for wheelchair basketball players.
The program, which is for able-bodied athletes as well, has about two dozen players and runs out of the gym at Trinity Western University.
All of this has helped Kosterman develop his game.
He began attending regional junior practices and soon progressed to the provincial level, representing B.C. at the Canada Games in 2011.
Now comes the cherry on top: playing for Canada at the world U23 wheelchair basketball championships. They are being held Sept. 7 to 14 in Adana, Turkey.
Kosterman is one of two 15-year-olds on the 12-player roster. The rest of the team is made up of players between the ages of 18 and 22.
“He is a really exciting, dynamic basketball player and an outstanding young man,” said Canadian coach Steve Bialowas.
“At this age group, you are looking at maturity and can they play and compete against the bigger, stronger players, and Jack can compete.”
Kosterman’s game has risen dramatically in the past year: he wasn’t even invited to the team’s first evaluation camp back in December, but by the time they had their next tryout in June, he was on the radar.
“In six months, he made tremendous progress and worked very hard in practice,” Bialowas said.
“That is an important factor too, when athletes that age can really invest their time and energy into training and motivate themselves to get to that level. Then you know you have something special there to work with as a coach.”
The team left for England on Friday (Aug. 30) for their final preparations before the championships.
And while it may be his first time wearing the red and white for Canada, Kosterman does not expect it to be his last as he aims to make the national team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It may seem like a lofty goal for someone who will have just turned 18 when the Games take place, but Kosterman likes the challenge.
“It will be tough, we have a really good team in Canada,” he said. “(But) I like to aim pretty high.
“I aimed for the Canada Games and they told me I wouldn’t make it, and I made it.
“And I aimed for making Team Canada (U23 team) and they told me I was too young and I made it on my first try. I love proving people wrong.”
Another goal is to play at the NCAA level when he finishes high school. He is just entering Grade 10 at Langley Fine Arts School.
He also has aspirations to play professionally down the road as there are leagues in Australia and Europe.
“I see nothing but great things in the future for Jack,” Bialowas said.
“He can make it as high as he wants to. Those decisions are usually not up to coaches, but it is the players that make the coaches’ minds up for them.
“If he keeps putting the work in, there will be a lot of opportunities.”
Kosterman sometimes wonders what might have happened had he not broken his hip and found wheelchair basketball.
For one thing, the sport changed his lifestyle. When he was 12, he dropped 60 pounds, going from 155 to 95. He is now 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds.
“Really, in my life, I lucked out,” he said.
“Being in a wheelchair is the only challenge I have really had.
“Those couple of years I spent in a wheelchair really shaped who I am, gave me a new outlook on life.”
“I have a good family, I have good genetics, I am healthy.”
Kosterman has an older sister, Cassie, 29, and brother, Stuart, 18. He also credits his parents, Mitch and Karen, for all their support.
“The only reason I want to be inspirational is work ethic, because I know tons of people who have overcome bigger challenges than I have,” Kosterman said.
“People should look at the athlete and not the story,” Kosterman said.
“I want people to stop thinking ‘it is so great these athletes are back out there’ to start looking at it as a respectable sport.
“The athletes in the sport don’t look at it as disabled people so no one else should either.”
What is wheelchair basketball?
• Wheelchair basketball is played five aside on a regulation-sized court with the baskets 10 feet off the
• The player with the ball is allowed to take two pushes and then they must either dribble, pass or
shoot the ball or they will be called for a traveling violation.
• Each player is given a classification between 1.0 and 4.5 and under international rules, teams can
have up to 14 combined points on the court at one time.
• The more severe the disability, the lower the score.
• Officials grade each person for their classification and Kosterman is being submitted as a 4.0.
• Up to the international level, able-bodied athletes can play wheelchair basketball.