By Barry Coulter
When one door closes, another one sometimes opens. That is certainly true for a young Jaffray athlete, who will soon be competing on the world stage for Team Canada.
On October 1, 2011, Shacarra Orr was in a motor vehicle accident on her way to a volleyball tournament. The accident ended up leaving her with a permanent loss of mobility in her right arm.
With much hard work and physiotherapy, Orr has since learned how to compensate for her bent arm, and adjusted to doing the skills left-handed.
Orr was and is an avid volleyballer, playing on both club and school teams. After the accident, she took to coaching. “I got back into it that way, just in case I never played again,” she said. “As soon as I was out of cast and OK to start practising I started again.”
Earlier this year, while on a trip in Edmonton with her club volleyball team, another coach approached Orr and asked if she would be interested in trying out for Team Canada’s Sitting Volleyball team.
“I was at a club tournament, and one of the guys — one of the Sitting Volleyball team coaches — also coaches a club team. So that’s when he noticed I had a disability, just watching me play, how some of my movements were limited. He invited me to the (Team Canada Sitting Volleyball Team) tryouts, which were taking place a few weeks later.”
Initially, Orr was not sure what sitting volleyball was but after checking it out on YouTube she knew she was interested.
In sitting volleyball, a 0.8 metre-wide net is set at 1.15 metres high for men and 1.05 metres high for women. The court is 10 by six metres with a two-metre attack line. The rules are basically the same as regular volleyball. It is a sport for athletes with disabilities, though there are no athlete classifications by disability.
“The net is lower, the court is a bit smaller,” Orr said. “But in standing volleyball you can just run to the ball. In sitting, the movements to get to the ball are way harder. We spend way more time on movement.”
According to the rules, players must have at least part of their bottoms on the ground at all times, or be on their stomachs.
In May of this year Orr went to Edmonton for four days of training and tryouts for Canada’s National Sitting Volleyball Team. She said she was amazed at how hard the sport was. It took a lot of upper body and core strength and leg strength — the latter because one pushes off with one’s legs.
“It was especially hard for me, because I’m actually right-handed. But because of my injuries I have to play left-handed,” she said. “So my natural footwork is the right-handed footwork, but I’ve had to change everything. It was definitely strange, and a little bit awkward, because I’m not as strong on that side. But the girls are really supportive, they help me learn different ways and different movements.”
On her last day of the tryout camp, Orr was offered a spot on the competitive team.
She went to Vancouver for 10 days at the beginning of the summer, and is off again next week. The team is scheduled to practise roughly once a month, and Orr can already see the team chemistry developing.
“I think from this we’re going to be longtime friends. Every girl is so unique, and I think our stories bond us together.”
Team Canada 2013 hasn’t had any competition yet. “They usually have a few competitions in the U.S, but it’s such a new sport, and in Canada we’re still looking for new people.
“We were supposed to go to Oklahoma in October, but one of our girls had to have surgery, and we had to withdraw because we didn’t have enough people.”
The ultimate immediate goal, of course, is the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. Sitting Volleyball was introduced to the Paralympic Games in 1980 as a men’s sport, and later as a women’s sport at the Athens Paralympics in 2004. At the London 2012 Games, 198 athletes competed in the sport.
Orr says she feels privileged to be able to represent her country. And more than that, the opportunity shows that when life gives you an unexpected challenge don’t dwell on what you used to be able to do, but focus on what you can do.
“One of my goals is to try to get people around our area who have disabilities, to really take a look at what’s out there for them,” she said. “Even myself, I didn’t know that there were these possibilities. And talking to the other girls, who play other paralympic sports, it’s great what’s out there for everyone.”