Last week, my daughter, Kelsey's, wheelchair basketball team, the GLASA Wave, was honored with the chance to play in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association's Championship Games in Denver, CO. It was their first time making it to the national level and the team was excited to get the chance to compete against the best in the country.
Not only would this be the team's first visit to the Championships, this would be our first time travelling with Emelia, Kelsey's service animal. We had read all the tips and tricks on the internet and felt we were ready for the adventure. Those who have gone before us warned not to feed her or give her water prior to the flight and be sure to take her potty as soon as possible before getting on the airplane. Not feeding her was a breeze. It's one less thing to do when packing up the suitcases and preparing ourselves for the trip, especially at 4:30 a.m.
It is definitely another to plan the potty breaks. Now of course, we can take her out at home, which we did, but then when we got to the airport it was a whole different ball game! I warn people to make sure they know where the break areas are, but what I didn't bargain for is the distance that they are from any sort of common area! So, when we got to Midway Airport in Chicago, we took a chance that Emelia would be good with going at home an hour earlier and prayed for the best. Of course, I walked behind Emelia throughout the airport looking for telltale signs that she might leave us a present.
Anyway, Emelia was wonderful, as was the staff at Southwest Airlines. As usual, they allowed us first entry, and Emelia made her way to the bulkhead, plopped down, and looked at us as though she had done this a thousand times before.
Of course, it was fun watching her reaction during takeoff and landing, but all in all it was very uneventful. Until of course, we landed in Denver. Now if I thought the relief area was remote at Midway, it was nothing like Denver! After walking through an entire terminal, going down an elevator, on a tram, up an elevator, across baggage claim, down another elevator, and into a dark corner of the airport, we were able to let poor Miss Emelia do her business. Of course, I was there walking behind her, ready to catch anything that may come our way in case she didn't make it. Of course, she was fine... I on the other hand, had a headache...
Ok, enough about Emelia's toileting skills. On to the games! Wow! What a display of talented athletes! The Championships welcomes xx teams from around the country and were spread among three venues, with levels ranging from prep to adult men and women. All the athletes were pumped, and there was a competitive spirit in the air. You could hear, and smell, the squeal of rubber on the court and the gnashing of metal on metal when these teams went for the win.
Even more fun to watch was how teams supported each other. Athletes from a variety of teams sat together to watch games in other divisions; cheering them on when they weren't on the court. Everyone is truly happy for the other's success and conciliatory when things don't work out that well.
I was amazed to see the crowds around the younger kids' prep games. The yelling from spectators was deafening!
I enjoyed watching the display of sportsmanship. When one girl tipped in her chair, a member of the opposing team got in front of her so that she could use his chair to pull herself back up.
The GLASA team played with everything they had, winning their first game before being beaten by the number one Dallas team. Not that it mattered. Of course, they would have liked to win, but this is the only time they have ever gotten to see all levels of team play. Some of these kids are planning to go on to colleges that have wheelchair basketball teams, and this is the first time they have gotten a chance to see the older athletes in action in person. It was a tremendous learning experience.
Back at the hotel, team members got the opportunity to kick back and spend their last weekend of competition for the season together. Hanging out in the lobby, ordering pizza, listening to music, and just hashing over the day's events... Lifelong friendships have been made. These kids have grown up together, and it is wonderful to see them becoming young adults, exploring the world and learning the lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship that competitive sports has to offer.
And through it all, Emelia managed to show us what a fantastic service animal she truly is. One trip down; many to go!