A hospital visit by one of Wollongong's wheelchair basketball pioneers inspired amputee Shawn Russell to become the region's latest Australian representative, writes Tim Keeble for The Illawarra Mercury.
Russell played junior basketball but was forced to give the game away at the age of 15 after having his right leg amputated below the knee.
A couple of years later he was undergoing treatment in hospital when he was visited by Wollongong Roller Hawks founder and fellow amputee Eino Okkonen. Russell had become a keen swimmer and politely turned down Okkonen's offer to have a shot at wheelchair hoops.
But Okkonen was persistent. He was convinced Russell had the toughness and talent to succeed on the court and gently persuaded the Farmborough Heights teenager to attend a Roller Hawks training session.
That was almost five years ago and Russell hasn't looked back.
Last year he played an integral role in Wollongong's charge to the 2008 National Wheelchair Basketball League grand final and recently he was selected in the Australian under 23 side to contest next month's World Cup in Paris.
"If it wasn't for Eino I probably wouldn't even be playing basketball. He's a great guy and he's the one who got me into it," the 21-year-old said.
"I'm pretty pysched about going overseas. I was chosen in an Australian development team in 2005, but this time we're actually playing in an official world championships and I'm really looking forward to it.
"We've been going to camps at the AIS since the start of the year and everyone's getting pretty familiar with each other.
"We'll be in London for a week playing against against Great Britain and then we're off to Paris. I can't wait to get there."
While Russell credits Okkonen for introducing him to basketball, he said Roller Hawks team-mates and Paralympic gold medallists Tristan Knowles and Brett Stibners had been instrumental in his development as a player.
"It's really good playing with those guys. I've learned heaps from them," he said.
"We play our first game this weekend against West Sydney and hopefully we're in for a good season."
Photo courtesy of Robert Peet for The Illawarra Mercury