Playing sports at a high level has always been a passion for Adelaide’s Philip Stephens which he was able to rediscover through wheelchair basketball.
His sporting dreams took an unforeseen turn at 17 and were put on hold after a life changing experience.
“I got hit by a car when I was younger but before that I was playing heaps of district basketball and high level footy,” Mr Stephens says.
“After that I had six anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions, several knee realignments and fought many staph infections.”
Now 34, Mr Stephens has been living with that disability which has caused considerable impact to his everyday life.
He says daily “norms” like walking, driving, working as well as looking after his children and enjoying his favourite leisure activities have become extra difficult.
The severe injury also meant he was no longer physically capable to continue playing able-bodied contact sports, igniting a downward spiral.
“Everything was ‘full on’ at that age and my life pretty much went downhill” Mr Stephens says.
“Watching all your mates play sports and knowing that you couldn’t play anymore affected me.”
“I was so active growing up then being in hospital all the time led to me putting on heaps of weight and being addicted to prescription drugs.”
In early 2016, his burning desire to get back on the to playing sport was the catalyst in getting his health and life back on track.
“I just wanted to play sport again and I thought it was time to do it,” Mr Stephens says.
Some online research helped him discover the Disability Recreation and Sports South Australia (SA).
Through this organisation, Mr Stephens learnt how to play wheelchair basketball and ultimately filling that emotional void.
“The first couple of times of playing it hurt because my knee didn’t fit the chair properly,” he says
“(After getting a chair modified) it’s been the best thing to ever happen to me.”
Gaining experience through social matches and personal practice time, Mr Stephens’ love for the game grew, developing his skills in the process.
This year, his new-found ability earned him a spot in Adelaide Thunder team to compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball League.
His training regime was ramped up to four days a week during the season.
“It was good playing against some of the world’s best players and learning how much faster and fitter you’ve got to be, to be up there with them,” Mr Stephens says.
Off the court, Mr Stephens went back to complete his studies and is now a realtor for South Australian-based company Coast to Coast Homes.
He says being able to connect with a group of people with a range of disabilities through playing the game has put his injury into perspective and has helped him get through life.
“It’s been a big helping mechanism for everyone to talk about the ‘ups-and-downs’ of life and how to get through it,” Mr Stephens says.
“Life’s done a full ‘360’ and it has been a blessing.”
His mission is now to encourage everyone young or old to give alternative sport a try.
He also hopes to one day make the Australian men’s wheelchair basketball team and will use a new specially designed game chair to get there.