On the Basketball Field... in a Wheelchair

By Federico Bartolomei, photograph by Ramiro Castro Xiques

Pozzecco's emotions are worth more than a thousand baskets.

Bologna is known as the city of baskets; in bars, in parks or even in the street, it's possible to feel that unique atmosphere, typical of Bologna, where passions are divided between fans of Fortitudo and Virtus. Bologna, however, has been the theater of a very special challenge, a game which has brought together two realities apparently distant, but with the same competitive spirit of professional athletes who practice a sport for the pleasure of it and to achievePozzeco and Bartolomei outstanding results.
The Paraolympics have put the spotlight on sports for the disabled bringing to our attention life stories and sporting challenges which have nothing to envy to the results achieved during the Olympics of Athens 2004. A little more than a year ago, sports for the disabled, thanks to Le Iene broadcasting, made its arrival on the scene at Pala Madison with a game which brought together a team of basketball players in wheelchairs, B. H. Torino against Bologna's basketball team Fortitudo. To tell us about this spectacular challenge, we have interviewed one of the players, icon of the Fortitudo, who has participated in this unusual match.
Gianmarco Pozzecco arrives at the Paladozza dressed with his usual windbreaker jacket and his wool hat on his head despite the fact that it's still not that cold outside. His teammates say that these are some of his paranoias, but he knows instead that - in regards to being on the field or at any public event he is ready to show off a bit - these little things are part of his daily life. And about his being a basketball player. "I have always said that I, and anyone who, like me, does this for work, am privileged, but it's also because of this that we have to pay attention to what our own body tells us. I admit that it took me a while to understand this, but now it fruitfully pays back." A new maturity for him, now two years and a half with Bologna's basketball team Fortitudo.Group of basketball players
Almost a new career, no more a fantastic egocentric, but a fantastic team player. "This environment had me grow up, once and for all. Here I learned that the time to be a fool was over, how I allowed it to be in Varese, but I can say that I feel considerably better, and on the field I have become only one thing to my teammates." Here is the new Gianmarco Pozzecco. The one who, on the field, but most of all out of it, knows how to show his big heart. He has demonstrated this, together with his teammates, a year and a half ago, in February 2003, when La Iena Marco Berry introduced himself at the Paladozza and challenged the Poz and his teammates to play in a very particular way: on the basketball field, right, but sitting on a wheelchair to challenge the boys of B. H. Torino. The challenge was naturally accepted and Pozzecco shoutingPozzecco, Mancinelli and Fultz, Barton and Van Den Spiegel (both in Rome now) smiled through the experience. This is a challenge that Gianmarco Pozzecco remembers well still today with great pleasure and true pride. "How did this come about? One of the managers at Le Iene, Marco Berry, whom I had met not too long before, asked me. I was immediately pleased with the idea, and so were my teammates, to do something important and fun at the same time. In Varese, incidentally, years ago, I met Fabrizio Macchi, one of the best disabled persons who do sports and who had set a world record then. Besides immediately becoming his friend, I have always followed him: I realized how much we could be enriching our lifes by being close to special kids like those who are disabled, and seeing the spirit with which they challenge life and sports. Our opponents in wheelchairs that day were certainly happy to meet a series-A team and to be able to go on a popular television program like Le Iene, but I am convinced that on that day my teammates and I learned, more than anyone else, some pretty valuable things. Besides realizing how lucky we are in life, we had a demonstration Marco Berry from Le Iene and Pozzecco as to how we should react towards the difficulties we run against. And this, if I may make a precision, allows us, sportsmen and privileged, to understand how to better overcome the sporting difficulties we face each day, which has absolutely nothing to do with the true problems of the less fortunate." A flow of spontaneous words for the Poz, on Pozzecco tries shooting the ball while sitting in the wheelchairthe field and out, always trying to brighten his smile. "We have to learn to experience things with more serenity and to react on the field with the same obstinacy these kids have, obstinacy that is born out of passion and desire to have fun, playing to their maximum and always with a smile. I think that this occasion has been very useful for us, and the good results our team has obtained from that moment on is probably, in a certain sense, consequencial to this. Yes, but what did it feel for Gianmarco Pozzecco to be on the basketball field... in a wheelchair? At the beginning, it was really strange, distances are completely different and you are missing the usual points of reference. And the basket seemed truly very high. However, a little bit at a time, once I overcame the difficulty of pushing the wheelchair, for someone like me who is used to always have the ball in my hands, I got to like it. Same with my teammates: at the end, I tried to convince Stefano Mancinelli to always play in a wheelchair, or even on a chair in the middle of the field, because we had never seen him make three baskets in one game! Unfortunately, it was not enough and we got our pay.
But, I repeat, we had a good time and I saw in the eyes of the kids that they were happy to play with us. Even at the end of the competition, I got myself a little satisfaction, I threw an assist to Van Den Spiegel whoPozzecco reading the magazine Vedere Oltre got up from the wheelchair and ran to do a smash. Enough to be disqualified, I know! But the atmosphere was right, we had such a good time." And it's not only fun for Gianmarco Pozzecco and his teammates, Fortitudo is always looking to be involved socially and do things, however little it is, to help those who need it. "Last year, Christian, a little boy who was just out of a coma, came on many occasions to see us training. Well, a little at a time, he has started to get better and now he is facing a very important recovery, we hope the best for him. We were told we had a little to do with this, because he was passionate about basketball and about Fortitudo, and to see us there in front of him, it gave him important emotions. The most important emotion though, we have felt it ourselves. It's worth more than a thousand baskets and any catch. Even for these words, Gianmarco Pozzecco shows that he is a champion. On the field, but most of all out.