Wheelchair Basketball Week: Anikka Cassidy

Meet Anikka Cassidy, originally from Calgary, Alberta and currently residing in Champaign, Illinois. Cassidy’s dedication to the sport is evidenced by her commitment both to the sport itself and to her teams, both in Alberta and at the University of Illinois.

“I am relieved I still get to play with my original team [Alberta] as they are my little basketball family”

Cassidy speaks of an evolution in her journey. “I spend a lot more time focusing on my mentality, I realized I wasn’t telling to others what my needs were or how I could be the best athlete I can be. I have severe anxiety, so I have been working on what’s in my control and what isn’t,” she says. This mental strength has enhanced her performance on the court, a crucial area of focus beyond her usual five times a week practice and three lifting sessions.

Cassidy’s pregame routine has stayed pretty similar, with a new addition; gratitude. These routines now carry a tribute to an important mentor in her life– Danny Brinton, who is remembered through writing his Team Alberta and Team Canada numbers on her shoes. “After his unfortunate passing, I now have multiple ways of honoring him,” Cassidy shares.

“In honor of Danny, when I close my eyes after my slaps, I personally thank [him] for getting me started and giving me the opportunities to play on the international stage as well as in the collegiate league.”

Fueling her passion are invaluable mentorships within the sport by her fellow Albertans Chad Jassman, Cathleen Baker, Jayna Doll, Arinn Young, and Nik Goncin. Cassidy also gave a shoutout to Aureile from Quebec for being her buddy during her first National Team camps and telling her to ‘go in with no fear’. Yet, her most cherished mentor is closer to home: “As clichéd as it sounds, my mom is my prime guide in all life’s aspects.” She speaks highly of her mom saying that she has empowered her and advocated for her to allow her to become the person she is today.

The camaraderie Cassidy shares with her teammates is another factor contributing to the strength of her game. From engaging in low-ropes courses to casual talk sessions, Cassidy emphasizes the importance of a strong team community: “I know that if I were ever to run into trouble in any way, my teammates would have my back.”

Reflecting on her career, Cassidy shares two memorable moments: Mentoring a 3-year-old Japanese child at the Osaka Cup and receiving offers from five different universities in the US. Choosing the University of Illinois was a moment of pride and triumph for her, especially since she was once told she’d never be able to attend university due to her disability.

With regard to committing to the Illinois Wheelchair Basketball Program, Cassidy explains, “This program is beyond amazing, Stephanie Wheeler is an absolute genius when it comes to team dynamics and training.” The sense of community and assurance of being in one of the best programs in the country have been instrumental to her journey.

Even as she competes with the Illinois team, Cassidy is supporting her team back home in Calgary during this Wheelchair Basketball Week 2023. “Even though I’m in the states, I’m reaching out to schools in Calgary to help find new athletes that would be eligible for the 2027 Canada Winter Games,” she shares.

“I miss my team at home so much, they’ve been my family for the last three years and I am incredibly grateful for them so I’m doing everything I can from across the border.”

An interesting fact about Cassidy reveals her diverse athletic background. “I have had the honor to represent Team Alberta in three separate sports: wheelchair track, wheelchair basketball, and rhythmic gymnastics.”

Keep an eye out for Cassidy in the upcoming season at the University of Illinois!

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