Chemotherapy, losing a leg and witnessing four members of her family succumb to cancer are just some of the issues Amy Conroy faces at age 14.
You’d never know — her admirable thirst for life and brushing aside “self-pity” shine through from the first minute of our Zoom conversation.
It has been a perilous journey for the GB Paralympics wheelchair basketball star, who is weeks away from representing her country in Tokyo.
Chemotherapy and losing a leg are just some of the curveballs of life Amy Conroy has to deal with
But this has not been a one-woman trip; more like ‘three musketeers’ in the words of the 28-year-old, with father Chris and sister Alice.
As a 14-year-old, Amy took up wheelchair basketball in an effort to gain confidence and fulfill her athletic endeavor after leaving the hospital bald and eyebrowless due to cancer treatment.
‘In my two-legged days I was always very sporty’, says Amy Sports post. “I got a pain in my knee that eventually turned into cancer, I fought my way through it, but I didn’t respond as well to the chemotherapy as I would have liked and had one leg amputated.
“It was my father who suggested we try wheelchair basketball. I was quite reluctant at first – the misconceptions I had that it was going to be lame, I spent all this time learning to walk so I don’t want to associate with being in a wheelchair again.
As a 14-year-old, Amy gave wheelchair basketball a shot in an effort to gain more confidence
‘I was quite shy, self-conscious and I remember Pinky promising my father that if I called with our special code, he would pick me up right away!
“But then I fell in love with it pretty quickly. I realized that this is what I want to do and that I want to get good at it.’
The trio would practice late at night, with Amy’s “countless” misses at the basket collected by her brother and sister and father.
Watching the Paralympic World Cup on TV in 2008 inspired the Paralympic to take up the sport in the first place. “I started when I was 14 or 15 years old for a local club in Norwich called Lowriders,” Amy recalls. “The turning point for me was seeing my current teammates on the Great Britain team at the Paralympics World Cup.
“There wasn’t a lot of attention for disabled sports, so I wasn’t really aware of it, which is why I’m so passionate about it now.
It has now resulted in her younger sister Alice joining British Wheelchair Basketball’s Inspire a Generation program
‘I used to play with my (prosthetic) leg and wore pants to hide it. The coach said, ‘If you want to do this right, you have to take your leg off’. I remember feeling mortified and thinking, “Absolutely not.”
“I was worried about it all night and thought, ‘What if people say things?’ and then this fateful moment came, I took off my leg and it was all right – nobody cared.’
It has now resulted in 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 where she will deliver the sessions over a six week period in South West London. The sessions, which start in early September, will span the UK and target both able-bodied and disabled participants – one in five in the sport are able-bodied. They will start in early September.
“It’s a big drive to get people involved in wheelchair basketball because it doesn’t have the publicity it needs, people aren’t necessarily aware of that,” Alice says. “So it’s a big drive to train a lot of activators across the country to be able to run a six-week course of sessions.
“It’s open to anyone in the audience to really encourage all skill levels, so able-bodied, old, young, parents, get them involved in the sport to show them what it’s like and bring people together. It just helps bring people together, lets people talk and removes barriers that disability can sometimes create. That includes Covid, because if you are disabled it is already difficult to find a sport.’
After watching four family members die of cancer, Amy’s diagnosis was death in her eyes
Alice’s selfless motivation to join the program revolves around the impact the sport has had on both her and her sister. She was deeply involved in her siblings’ journey from the hospital bed to starring in the Paralympic Games — even reporting on her sister’s performances as an aspiring sports journalist in London 2012.
“It doesn’t matter how many games I watch, I just feel like the novelty factor will never go away,” Alice says. “To see her face and name on the big screen or on the scoreboard is very special. I tell everyone.
“I just think there’s no better person to be a role model for people, as you can tell from her attitude and positivity — she’s such a wonderful person.”
It’s a far cry from the position Amy was in when she was only 13. After watching four family members die of cancer – including Mother Ann when Amy was seven – her own cancer diagnosis was death in her eyes.
“It took a while (before I was diagnosed) because I was so athletic,” explains Amy. “I went back and forth to the doctors for a year and thought it was sports pains or growing pains, so ‘by the time I was finally diagnosed, I was having trouble walking. It was a 50 percent survival rate when I was diagnosed. My mother, grandparents and uncle died of cancer, so when I heard it was osteosarcoma (bone cancer) at the time, it meant death to me – I thought it was me.”
Better days are coming with a possible medal on the horizon in Tokyo, with the Paralympic Games starting on August 24
“I found out (about mom’s death from breast cancer) the day of a friend’s birthday party where the whole school year was going to be. But the fact that my dad is the best really helped. He brought us all close together.’
This was followed by a year of struggle in the hospital. She continues: ‘There were a precious nine days at home and a few days off before the amputation around Christmas, but I was quite sick, there were some sticky times.
“But he (daddy) stayed with me the whole time. The first day I was sick 75 times I counted and stopped – what a miserable stat! He had such a positive, resilient attitude.’
Alice then took over to help Amy get back to school.
Amy says: ‘I came out of the hospital at 14, an age where you want to hang out with everyone and be normal and I was bald, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, I had braces, I had glasses – I was a bit in a state.
“I don’t know how I wasn’t bullied in this wheelchair. I’d never seen anyone with one leg before and I just thought, ‘I want to look normal’.
GB’s wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed bronze medal match in Rio 2016
‘With Alice with me who, if you don’t mind me saying, was just as bad as me (at basketball), and we kind of laughed at our shots! I got a little better, she got a little better – we went through it together.’
Better days are coming with a medal on the horizon in Tokyo, with the Paralympic Games starting on August 24. GB’s wheelchair basketball team narrowly missed the bronze medal game in Rio 2016 and Amy says: — an improvement on their seventh place finish at London 2012 – Amy and co have left hungry for a medal this time around.
The first challenge is to get to the city Covid-free.
“We’re going into mini lockdowns now, so it was super safe,” adds Amy. “For the flight to Tokyo, we go in groups of three or four from each team. We are on the run in full PPE with goggles.
“In Rio we narrowly missed the bronze medal match. “Coming back empty-handed now gives us fuel to train harder so it doesn’t happen again.”
To join as a Community Activator or to find the nearest session, go to ga www.inspireageneration.com