In 1996, as host of Planet X, a sports lifestyle show, I had the great opportunity to travel to Bosnia, and assist the International Rescue Committee in developing advocacy and support programs for people with disabilities.
ANDY HOUGHTON: Hey, it’s Andy. I am beat. Eleven-hour flight from LA, landed in Croatia. We’re on our way to Bosnia to drop off some supplies and wheelchairs. We’re going to play basketball. We’re going to talk to these guys that are in wheelchairs. There are fifty to seventy-five people in wheelchairs in the rehab hospitals there.
We’re on the road to Tuzla. I’m actually nervous and I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to meeting everybody. Come along for the ride.
Upon my arrival from Croatia, I made a visit to the rehab hospital in Tuzla.
SPEAKER: Oh, don’t do it. Andy, don’t do it.
ANDY HOUGHTON: The process of rehabilitation is step by step. No matter where one comes from, the obstacles to be overcome are no small feat. The enthusiasm and camaraderie I felt here was amazing.
You know, it’s really impressive, what these guys can do in the wheelchairs that they have. It just goes to show you that with a little bit better equipment and more knowledge, these guys can be incredible athletes. They can move around in the community and they can really be assets, you know. With the limited equipment that they have, it’s just amazing the things that they can do.
When somebody either throws you the frisbee or you have to block somebody or go for a pass, you’re ready to go. You’re moving. You can go like this.
Sports are a true international language that has no need for translation. In the shadow of the former Olympic city of Sarajevo, sports have once again proven to be essential to these Bosnians as they adjust to life in wheelchairs.
See, basketball is my worst sport but let’s see what we can do to pull it off. I’m point guard. The pressure is on.
As a key member of the expedition, Coach Jon Jennings of the Boston Celtics provided valuable insight to the Bosnian wheelchair basketball team.
JON JENNINGS: Just because you’re in these things doesn’t mean – doesn’t mean you can’t be a great basketball player.
ANDY HOUGHTON: It’s Andy and I’m here with Jon Jennings, Assistant Coach of the Boston Celtics. I’ve just got one question for you, Coach. What’s it going to take, man? What do I need to do to get on the team?
JON JENNINGS: Andy, let me explain something to you. I just watched you play. You’ve got no shot at all.
The reason why I’ve come to Bosnia this week really is three-hold. I know about the death and destruction that these – that the children have suffered. I wanted to come here and work with the young people. They have not had a chance to get outside, be kids, for a very long time.
Second of all, a little bit of a selfish reason why I came over is that being a scout for the Celtics, I wanted to see some of the young players over here, maybe look at them for possibly for the future for us.
And third, I think I follow this war very closely and I was very disturbed that the international community did not come to the aid of the Bosnian people, particularly the people of Sarajevo. These people were not given weapons or any type of assistance to protect themselves or to even fight back. I think it’s really a disgrace, an international disgrace, and the experience I had today with the wheelchair basketball players was really fantastic. This is the first time that I have ever had an opportunity to work in a basketball situation with wheelchair players.
None of those guys will ever be able to dunk like Michael Jordan but I can’t dunk like Michael Jordan, so it really doesn’t – that is irrelevant. What they can do is they can dribble, they can pass, and they can shoot. And that’s all there is to basketball.
The other great thing about these men today was the fact that they wanted to learn. They really, really want to get better and they want to be good basketball players.
ANDY HOUGHTON: We just arrived in Sarajevo after a 124-minute drive from Tuzla. The destruction in this town is apparent. From the minute you come into town, the buildings are destroyed. I just get chills down my spine at the thought of all of the people that have died and suffered in this war.
Sarajevo’s rehab hospital was better equipped than Tuzla’s. More facilities and unfortunately, more patients. The many years of war have greatly affected the landscape of this once beautiful country, yet the spirit of the Bosnians remain unbroken.
It’s a historic day today in Sarajevo. This ramp was constructed to enable wheelchair users access to the post office. It is the first step in hopefully a long process that will enable people to have access to the city and educate the population on people with disabilities.
Sweet, the first ever tandem ride on the first ramp at the post office in Sarajevo. What did you think?
ANDY HOUGHTON: My time spent with these brave people makes me appreciate the little things we often take for granted here in America.
We’re working our way through the checkpoint. It’s getting a little scary. These guys are looking tough. Where are you guys from?
SPEAKER: From Maryland.
ANDY HOUGHTON: I’m from Daytona Beach.
ANDY HOUGHTON: It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the International Rescue Committee Studs, including me, are going to take on the Tuzla Veterans.
These foreign refs, they’re calling fouls on me. They don’t like me. I’m out of the country. I don’t know. I think there’s something wrong here. I think we’ve got a little conflict of interest going on.
I was really impressed with the level of play. They’re picking, they’re rolling, they’re passing.
Good job. Good game.
Has my coming to Bosnia had any affect on you and the people in the rehab center?
SPEAKER (TRANSLATED): Your visit is too much for us because now we know much more about wheelchair sports and that there are some other wheelchair sports that we can practice.
ANDY HOUGHTON: What would you tell people in this world about the tragedies of this war?
SPEAKER (TRANSLATED): This war was so dirty and I don’t think that this war happened anywhere on earth like here in Bosnia because the Yugoslav army used all of their forces against Muslims and [00:08:50] here in Bosnia.
We were without guns, tanks, and other things that we needed for this war. But anyway, we didn’t lose. So, I don’t wish to anybody on this earth to have the same thing.
ANDY HOUGHTON: Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for. Six thousand miles later, the chairs from Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation has arrived in Bosnia.
These state-of-the-art wheelchairs were part of a massive fifty-ton shipment of supplies from the organizing relief agency, Peace Works.
Not only is there wheelchair basketball in Bosnia, there is sit down volleyball. These guys are preparing for a tournament against Sarajevo next week. They’re looking pretty good, looking strong.
We’ll be right back from Bosnia with more –
SPEAKERS: Planet X.
ANDY HOUGHTON: Yeah.
The soil is so rich here in Bosnia that fruit and vegetables are just absolutely insane. Have you ever seen a cantaloupe that looks that big? I mean, look at this thing. And peppers. Peppers seem to be a daily diet staple here.
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