After two separate ACL tears in both knees, Stettler’s Sydney Poapst didn’t know if she was going to be able to play basketball competitively again.
It was a long journey.
But her hard work has paid off.
After discovering an avenue through wheelchair basketball and receiving a light nudge from her mother, Poapst will be one of twelve players on Team Alberta’s roster for the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island.
She had played stand-up basketball competitively her whole life and excelled at it too but a pair of unfortunate injuries in 2018 sidelined her hopes of playing college basketball.
“I kept playing but after my knee injuries it was pretty hard to keep up at the level I was playing at before I got injured,” she said.
“I loved to compete so it was never really out of the question if I was going to keep playing. It was just how far was I going to play or if I would still be good enough to play college.”
While playing for the William E. Hay Stettler Secondary Campus Cougars she partially tore her ACL in Grade 11 and again in her senior year. Both eventually required surgery.
“It was pretty hard at first,” Poapst added. “Stand-up basketball has been a huge part of my life and part of my family’s life. Initially, I wanted to stick around the sport for the fun of it.
“I didn’t know what the Canada Winter Games was or what level I could get to in Wheelchair basketball… It was a hard transition. Some skills translate but pushing a wheelchair is not something that comes easily if you’ve never done it before.”
A year later while attending Medicine Hat College in early 2019 she got her first ACL surgery and her second operation in December. Her mom, who teaches physical education at a local elementary school, rented wheelchairs for a class to try.
Poapst also tried it out while she was healing and fell in love with it.
“Initially I was just planning on playing until I could go back to stand up but it was a lot of fun,” she said.
She later got in touch with Ross Norton who runs the Alberta Northern Lights Club Wheelchair Basketball Club later that fall and she’s been playing ever since.
It was her mother who convinced her to give it a try. At first, the 22-year-old explained she was worried it wouldn’t be the same but the more she’s played the more she’s loved the game.
Playing in Edmonton is one of the best wheelchair basketball programs to play for. All of the coaches have a ton of experience including time on the Canadian national team.
“There are a lot of veteran players that know what they’re doing and know how to play with you but also coach you at the same time,” she said. “That’s been really helpful.”
Some of the challenges when she initially started out were her muscles would get tired rather than the cardio fatigue she’d experienced playing basketball previously.
“It was tough mentally going from being one of the strongest players on any team I was on throughout my life to being brand new and being the worst on the team,” Poapst added.
“Trying to get the confidence to keep getting better knowing that there are other players that have a lot to offer. Whereas before I was that leader giving that advice.”
Unofficially, Poapst has been involved in a few tournaments with Team Alberta but on Monday, Feb. 20 she will officially put the jersey on in their first game at the Canada Winter Games.
However, she won’t be going into battle without a few familiar faces with nine members from her club in Edmonton. The social aspect of the game has also been more inclusive and she has made lifelong friends.
One day she’d love to represent her country on the international wheelchair basketball stage but new rules implemented have deemed her ineligible. In the meantime, she plans to keep working hard for a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball in the U.S.