• Story 22: The Higgins Family

Our last family profile in Family Week of the “40 Years. 40 Sports. 40 Days” campaign is on the Higgins Family. Those of you active in wheelchair basketball will likely recognize Joe and Louise Higgins and their daughters Erin, Christine and Paula, but did you know that Joe and Louise actually met while competing at swimming in the 1988 Seoul Paralympics? This sport-loving family also skis, golfs and bike rides together. Today, we talk to Louise Higgins about how involvement in wheelchair sports impacted her family.

1. How did you get involved in wheelchair sports? 

Our family began our involvement through Joe. He has been involved with wheelchair basketball since he was young. I met Joe on the plane on the way to Seoul in 1988 where we both competed at the Paralympics in swimming. Since then, our family has skied together, played wheelchair basketball together (all 5 of us!) and biked around our neighbourhood together. Joe and I play golf as much as we can in the spring and summer.

2. Why did you decide to get involved in wheelchair sports to the extent that you did?

We didn’t really decide to be involved exactly. It just happened prompted by our desire to pursue sports activities as a family and maintained by sheer enjoyment.

3. Describe the ways in which you’ve been involved in wheelchair sports.

I started with swimming (not really wheelchair swimming, though!) and skiing in the 1980s. I used to ride my bike on campus (to get to class on time!) and now I share that with the kids. Golf is something Joe and I started a few years ago to move us to our retirement plan!

When Joe and I got married, he was heavily involved in coaching wheelchair basketball. In the early days when Erin was a baby, we had lots of athletes coming over to train with Joe on the rollers and to benefit from some one-on-one coaching. Exposure for Erin started early!

Joe stayed home with the other two kids after his coaching role changed. As they grew up, he continued to be involved in basketball, but we also took up skiing more seriously. All three of the girls started skiing before age 5. We spent a lot of time up at Big White and Joe developed his abilities with the sit ski. Joe never goes half measures with any of his interests and soon we were teaching up at Whistler with their adaptive ski program!

In 2004, Joe was approached to fill in as coach with the Calgary Rollers during a tournament in Vancouver. By this time, I had been playing a bit of basketball in the City League for fun. I was asked to play in the tournament so that they could make points. After one day, I was exhausted as I have never been before or since. I guess I did okay because both Joe and I had our contracts extended with the Rollers for the rest of the season and into the next season!

4. How has being involved in wheelchair sports impacted your family?

As mentioned, we continue to enjoy many ski vacations as a family and all three of the girls are good skiers now. This has contributed greatly to family cohesion. Because wheelchair basketball offers opportunities for able-bodied people, this has allowed our daughters to experience sport with their father. They have played regularly in the junior tournament in Richmond. Erin in particular has discovered her love of the sport and went to Halifax for the Canada Winter Games. She has found her inner agro personality despite being a generally gentle-spirited person. In a more general way, our involvement in wheelchair sports has promoted in our daughters a sense of tolerance and understanding of diversity in others.

5. How has the wheelchair sports community in BC changed since you first got involved?

I think there is more awareness of wheelchair sports in the able-bodied community and a perception that it is foremost a sport and not adaptive fitness for “the handicapped.”

6. What is your wheelchair sports highlight from the past 40 years?

Playing with Erin and Joe on the Vintage Cable Cars team that also includes Erin’s godfather Peter Colistro and the Lundie team. It is a real pleasure to share the sport with two generations of athletes!

7. How does it make you feel to watch your kids competing in wheelchair sports?

I have been really proud of Erin in her involvement in the sport. With success comes her desire for further involvement.

For those of you who missed it the first time around, here’s Joe and Erin talking about their experience at the 2011 Canada Winter Games.