Ausnew Home Care | How powerchair hockey held the key to independence

How powerchair hockey held the key to independence for Perth mum Deema Audeh

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When she found out she was slowly losing her mobility, 28-year-old Deema Audeh was at risk of succumbing to depression. 

"It seemed like such a taboo thing for me, it felt like it would mean I was really declining by being in a wheelchair," she said.

But instead of giving up, she began to view a wheelchair as a strength when she started playing powerchair hockey.

And now she is developing into one of the best female players in disability sports in Western Australia. 

"It's really changed my perception of it," she said. 

The young mother has a degenerative disability called limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD), but she wasn't diagnosed until she was an adult.

There are multiple types of LGMD, which causes muscle weakness and wasting, but most people who have it will need a wheelchair eventually.

A headshot of Deema Audeh  who wears her long brown hair out with a red shirt as she smiles. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Deema Audeh says powerchair hockey helped her to see a wheelchair as a symbol of strength. (Supplied)

As a practising physiotherapist, being diagnosed with a rare genetic disease was confronting for Deema, who had never known anyone with a disability before.

On Saturday mornings, Deema and her four-year-old son take a 40-minute drive to Western Electric Sporting Association (WESA) to play powerchair hockey.

Deema doesn't mind the long trip or early mornings because it has become an important part of her life. 

"It's given me something else on the side to look forward to," she said.

All genders, races and disabilities welcome

WESA is a Perth-based club that teaches power-wheelchair hockey, balloon soccer and football in an accessible gym at Rocky Bay, a disability services provider for children and adults.

The not-for-profit group sends players to national and international electric wheelchair events and competes in state games as well.

WESA has players of all genders, races, and disabilities. The only rule is that you play in a power wheelchair.

Deema was introduced to WESA by pure chance when her sister arranged a meeting with the club president Jack O'Keeffe, who also has a form of LGMD.

Jack said he initially met with Deema to discuss their shared disability.

"I'm all about getting newly diagnosed people in Perth into the community," he said.

Jack O'Keeffe gesticulating while coaching in a powerchair
Jack O'Keeffe in action coaching a powerchair hockey team at WESA. (Supplied: WESA)

They met for a quick coffee and ended up talking for four hours about their shared experiences and how their families had adjusted to their disabilities.

They became friends and soon she was playing the sport with him. 

Jack has been involved at WESA since its early days, before he was using a power wheelchair.

He was introduced to it when he went for a physiotherapy consultation at Rocky Bay and saw a group of people in the gym playing soccer from their power wheelchairs.

An action shot of Jack O'Keeffe playing powerchair hockey
Jack has recruited many of the players at WESA since he first joined 12 years ago. (Supplied: WESA)

Jack remembers some of the players driving up to him and asking what was "wrong" with him.

"I was like: 'I've just kind of found out that I've got my muscular dystrophy'," Jack said.

"They were like: 'That's great, jump in one of the spare chairs and come play sport with us.'"

After joining WESA in 2009, he has recruited most of the players since.

Club provides a sense of belonging

Deema said meeting someone with the same condition as her was part of why she chose to join the club.

"Up until before I met Jack, I had never met anyone else who had limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. I thought I was maybe one of the only people in WA who had it," she said.

Deema Audeh sitting in a restaurant wearing a brown coat
Deema has been inspired and motivated by the people she has met at WESA.(Supplied)

She feels a lot of the appeal of WESA is knowing that other people have shared her experiences and adjustments to disability.

"Having not known anybody before joining WESA, I have met people with different disabilities … at different stages of life … and seeing people going about their days, their lives, their goals and how they're achieving them. It's really inspirational.

"It feels like I have got a community of people who are supporting me, who are behind me and who get me."

Sport provided confidence to use chair in everyday life

When Deema started playing powerchair hockey, she had never used a wheelchair and her first experience was trying to balance on wheels while trying to score a goal.

She has started to need a wheelchair to get around comfortably and stay active without risking a fall. 

Without WESA, she would not have been ready for that transition.

"Being in the wheelchair to play has made the idea of being in the wheelchair for daily living a smoother transition," she said.

"Instead of saying it's limiting me, it's something that's going to aid me in doing more, in being more independent," Deema explained.

Deema Audeh standing in front of a statue of a camel wearing pink
Deema says powerchair hockey gave her the confidence to use a wheelchair in other settings.(Supplied)

From Jack's perspective, WESA has made her more confident both on and off the court.

"Being a part of the community, it's not such a stigma to be in a chair and you just need to be safe and have fun.

"I was very happy that she has committed to sport. On the first day, she said she absolutely loved it."

Her coach Justin Lattaway started at WESA seven years ago as a support worker and while he does not have a disability, he coaches from a wheelchair.

He said that WESA has had a positive effect on a lot of players' confidence.

"A lot of people with disabilities, from my experience, have a lot of shyness, reservations interacting with people, and I think sport is a great way to help them overcome that," he said.

"Disability sport in the past has not really been seen so much as a competitive thing: [it] has more been you've got to protect them, and you've got to look after them and they're not able to be as competitive as an able-bodied [person]."

Deema has started the process of getting her own wheelchair through the National Disability Insurance Scheme now that she is playing the sport.

Deema 'empowered' by wheelchair

She is excitedly waiting for her wheelchair and car hoist to arrive so she can start being more active in the community again.

"After being in chairs, I feel almost empowered and happy to be participating publicly in whatever it is I'm doing," she said.

"It's really difficult when you're transitioning and your family, they support you, but they don't really grasp how it feels to be in your shoes.

"A lot of these people, they understand that … It's been a really inspirational community: it's just being incredible to be a part of that."


Source: ABC

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