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Grassroots to Glory - Terry Bywater

Terry Bywater, Paralympian British basketball player, looks forward to his sixth Paralympic Games.

Terry Bywater, Paralympian British basketball player, playing wheelchair basketball by ©British Wheelchair Basketball
Terry Bywater by ©British Wheelchair Basketball

It takes the swaggering confidence of LeBron James to emblazon the word 'legend' across your website, but no-one could argue Terry Bywater hasn't lived up to the hype. 

Readying himself for his sixth Paralympics, Terry has been the thundering engine room of Britain's wheelchair basketball team for two decades, a player's player who is liked, respected and feared in equal measure.

Three times Terry, now 38, has left the Games with a medal, all bronzes, the team perennially perched on the global podium.  

But gold long eluded the GB squad until victory in the World Championships three years ago, meaning Haj Bhania's players arrive in Tokyo as the team to beat. 
Great Britain will face group games against the USA, Australia, Germany, Algeria and Iran with four of the six advancing to the last eight. 

"We want to create a dynasty for this team and I think we can," said Bywater, just 17 when he made his Games debut in Sydney. "

"This is the best squad I've ever played with, some of the youngsters coming through are just fantastic. "

"We're going to need some luck along the way, but we've certainly got the team. "

Terry is one of a generation of athletes who have seen the fortunes of ParalympicsGB transform over the past two decades, thanks to National Lottery funding, which allows him and his teammates to train full time and benefit from world class facilities, technology, and coaching. 

"I believe we've got the best wheelchair basketball programme in the world. When we won that World Championship, that was a big message to everybody else in the world - there are so many good teams, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, any of them could win it."

"This has been the most challenging time for this squad, we didn't train together for nearly 18 months. To be apart in a team sport for that length of time is huge, for many months I just thought Tokyo wasn't happening. "

"When you win a Paralympic medal of any colour, it's a dream, but as soon as Rio was over, we started thinking Tokyo. We want to finally get that gold...There would be no other feeling in the world."

Terry Bywater, Paralympian British basketball player, playing wheelchair basketball by ©British Wheelchair Basketball
Terry Bywater by ©British Wheelchair Basketball

Terry was born without a tibia and fibula in his left leg, resulting in its amputation when he was two years old. A decade later, he was introduced to the sport that would consume his life through an open day at his local club, the Teeside Lions. 

He recalls falling out the chair '100 times' and ended up in hospital after his second training session, tumbling backwards and splitting his head open. 

“I’m not sure my parents were that impressed, but I just fell in love with the sport immediately,” he adds. 

Within two years he was making his international debut in Canada - handed the number seven jersey that he's refused to let go of ever since. 

"I was lucky to get it in my first ever GB game, no-one was taking it off me after that," he added. "I'm a huge football fan and my favourite ever England players were David Platt and David Beckham. "

Terry may be particular about the seven on his vest, but he isn’t bothered by a different digit.  

"Age is just a number,” he insisted. “I'm feeling great and can't wait to get started. I never would have believed, all those years after my first one in Sydney, I'd still be going to the Paralympics but I still get that same feeling." 

Terry now lives in Madrid with wife Jodie and son Benjamin, 12, where he plays for leading Spanish side CD Ilunion. 

But ever-changing lockdown rules since joining up with the British team means these Games will be the longest the school sweethearts have spent apart since they started dating in their early teens. 

"He's an absolute legend to me, I'm still in awe of him, he's just an incredible man and life with him never gets boring," said Jodie. 

"Every time he tells me he's going to the Paralympics, it's just so special.  "He was always the popular kid, he wasn't the greatest student and was very cheeky and didn't like being told what to do - he still doesn't. He's the life and soul of any party, the younger guys just love him." 

Portrait of Terry Bywater by ©ParalympicsGB
Terry Bywater by ©ParalympicsGB

Terry's tears after Rio told the story of a rollercoaster four years and dramatic tournament. The British team had failed to deliver at their home Games in London, a heavy defeat in the bronze medal match leaving their star man in bits. 

In Rio they narrowly lost their semi-final to Spain and then needed overtime against Turkey to secure a podium slot. 

"I'm an emotional guy on the court and those were real tears of joy," recalled Terry. "All those years of training, the time spent away from our family, it all comes out in moments like that. "

"It's going to be hard not to have the family in the stands looking down on me, seeing in them stands with their GB shirts on and the flag with my name." 

Terry's social media channels are packed with videos of his trick shots, draining long rangers from every angle, including a rather spectacular over-the-head effort he insists, with a smirk, took 'just two takes'. 

"I'm very proud of my career, it's taken a lot of hard work to get here, but I'm not done yet, the trick shot stuff is a way of reminding people I've still got it," he added. 

"I moved to Spain to better my game and I never looked back and it improved me big time. But what's really made me is playing with all my teams, from Teeside to Sheffield to the GB teams. "

"Putting on that vest with GB on it for the first time was a moment I'll never forget and the moment I first heard the words you are going to the Paralympics. "

"When I got that first medal in Athens it didn't feel normal or right, I was this young kid from Redcar with a Paralympic medal." 

Now a slightly older kid from Redcar, a gold in the days ahead would move Terry beyond even legend status.

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