Amy Conroy determined to inspire a generation after overcoming heartache to make it to Tokyo


Chemotherapy, losing a leg and witnessing four members of her family succumbing to cancer are just some of life’s curveballs Amy Conroy faced by the age of 14.

You would never know — her admirable thirst for life and batting away of ‘self-pity’ shine through from the first minute of our Zoom call.

It’s been a perilous journey for the Paralympics GB wheelchair basketball star who is weeks away from representing her country at Tokyo.

Chemotherapy and losing a leg are just some of life's curveballs Amy Conroy faced by 14

Chemotherapy and losing a leg are just some of life’s curveballs Amy Conroy faced by 14

But this has not been a one-woman journey; more like ‘three musketeers’ in the 28-year-old’s words, with father Chris and sister Alice.

As a 14-year-old Amy gave wheelchair basketball a go in an attempt to gain confidence and fulfil her sporting endeavour after leaving hospital bald and with no eyebrows because of cancer treatment.

‘Back in my two-legged days, I was always really sporty,’ Amy tells Sportsmail. ‘I got a pain in my knee which ended up being cancer, fought through that, but I didn’t respond to the chemotherapy as well as I would’ve liked and had a leg amputated.

‘It was my dad who had suggested I try wheelchair basketball. I was quite reluctant at first — the misconceptions I had were it’s going to be lame, I’ve been spending all this time learning to walk so I don’t want to associate with being back in a wheelchair.

As a 14-year-old Amy gave wheelchair basketball a go in an attempt to gain confidence

As a 14-year-old Amy gave wheelchair basketball a go in an attempt to gain confidence

As a 14-year-old Amy gave wheelchair basketball a go in an attempt to gain confidence

‘I was quite shy, self-conscious and I remember pinky promising with my dad that if I rang with our special code, he would pick me up straight away!

‘But then I just fell in love with it quite quickly. I realised this is what I want to do and I want to get good at this.’

The trio would practice late at night, with Amy’s ‘numerous’ misses at the basket collected by her sibling and father.

It was watching the Paralympics World Cup on TV in 2008 that inspired the Paralympian to take up the sport in the first place. ‘I started at 14 or 15 years old for a local club in Norwich called Lowriders,’ Amy recalls. ‘The turning point for me was seeing my now team-mates in the Great Britain team playing in the Paralympics World Cup.

‘There wasn’t much exposure of disability sport so I wasn’t really aware of it, and it is why I’m so passionate about it now.

It has now led to her younger sister Alice joining British Wheelchair Basketball's Inspire a Generation programme

It has now led to her younger sister Alice joining British Wheelchair Basketball's Inspire a Generation programme

It has now led to her younger sister Alice joining British Wheelchair Basketball’s Inspire a Generation programme

‘I used to play with my (prosthetic) leg in and I’d wear trousers to hide it. The coach said, ‘If you want to do this properly, you have to take your leg off’. I remember feeling mortified thinking, ‘Absolutely not’.

‘I was worried about it all night thinking, ‘What if people say things?’ and then this fateful moment came, I took my leg off and it was fine — no one cared.’

It has now led to her younger sister Alice joining British Wheelchair Basketball’s Inspire a Generation programme, which will give thousands of people the chance to try the sport.

Alice will be one of the Community Activators — a role which sees her deliver the sessions over a six-week period in south-west London. The sessions, due to start by early September, span the UK and are aimed at both able-bodied and disabled participants — one in five in the sport are able-bodied. They are due to start by early September.

‘It’s a big drive to get people involved in wheelchair basketball because it doesn’t have the publicity that it needs, people aren’t necessarily aware of it,’ says Alice. ‘So it’s a big drive to train up loads of activators around the country to be in a positionto run a six-week course of sessions.

‘It’s open to anyone in the public to really encourage all abilities so able-bodied, old, young, parents, getting them involved in the sport to show them what it’s like and to bring people together. It just helps bring people together, allows people to talk and brings down barriers that disability can sometimes bring. That includes Covid because it’s already difficult when you are disabled to find a sport.’

After seeing four family members die from cancer, Amy's diagnosis meant death in her eyes

After seeing four family members die from cancer, Amy's diagnosis meant death in her eyes

After seeing four family members die from cancer, Amy’s diagnosis meant death in her eyes

Alice’s selfless motivation for getting involved the programme revolves around the impact the sport has had on both her and sister. She has had a close seat to her siblings’ journey from hospital bed to starring in the Paralympics — even reporting on her sister’s performances courtside as an aspiring sports journalist at London 2012.

‘No matter how many games I go and watch, I just feel the novelty factor will never wear off,’ says Alice. ‘To see her face and name on the big screen or scoreboard is really special. I tell everybody about it.

‘I just think there’s no better person to be a role model for people as you can see through her attitude and positivity — she’s such a great person.’

It’s a far cry from the position Amy found herself in at just 13. After seeing four family members die from cancer — including mother Ann when Amy was seven — her own cancer diagnosis meant death in her eyes.

‘It took a while (to be diagnosed) because I was so sporty,’ Amy explains. ‘I went to the doctors back and forth for a year and thought it was sports pains or growing pains so ‘By the time I finally did get diagnosed, I was struggling to walk. It was 50 per cent chance of survival when I got diagnosed. My mum, grandparents and uncle died of cancer so when I heard that it was osteosarcoma (a bone cancer) at the time, for me it meant death — I thought that was it for me.’

Brighter days are ahead with a potential medal on the horizon at Tokyo, with the Paralympics starting on August 24

Brighter days are ahead with a potential medal on the horizon at Tokyo, with the Paralympics starting on August 24

Brighter days are ahead with a potential medal on the horizon at Tokyo, with the Paralympics starting on August 24

‘I found out (about mother passing away to breast cancer) on the day of a friend’s birthday party which the whole school year was going to. But the fact that my dad is the best really helped. He’s brought us all close together.’

A battling year in hospital then followed. She continues: ‘There was a precious nine days at home and few days off before the amputation at around Christmas but I was pretty sick, there were some sticky times.

‘But he (dad) stuck with me the whole time. The first day I was sick 75 times, I counted then stopped — what a miserable statistic! He had such a positive, resilient attitude.’

Alice then took over the baton when it came to helping Amy back into going to school.

Amy says: ‘I came out of hospital at 14, an age where you want to blend in with everyone and be normal and I was bald, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, I had braces, I had glasses — I was in a bit of a state.

‘I don’t know how I wasn’t bullied in this wheelchair. I hadn’t seen anyone with one leg before and I just thought, ‘I want to look normal’.

GB's wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed out on the bronze medal match at Rio 2016

GB's wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed out on the bronze medal match at Rio 2016

GB’s wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed out on the bronze medal match at Rio 2016

‘Having Alice there with me who, if you don’t mind me saying was equally as bad as me (at basketball), and we just kind of laughing about our shots! I got a bit better, she was getting a bit better — we went through it together.’

Brighter days are ahead with a medal on the horizon at Tokyo, with the Paralympics starting on August 24. GB’s wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed out on the bronze medal match at Rio 2016 and Amy says: — an improvement on their seventh-place finish at London 2012 — leaving Amy and co hungry to capture a medal this time around.

The first challenge is to get to the city Covid free.

‘We’re going into mini lockdowns now just so were super safe,’ Amy adds. ‘For the flight to Tokyo we’re going in groups of three or four from each team. We’ll be in full PPE on the flight with goggles.

‘In Rio we so narrowly missed out on the bronze medal game – ‘Coming back empty handed is fuelling us now to train harder so it doesn’t happen again.’

To get involved as a Community Activator or find your nearest session, go to www.inspireageneration.com



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