Wheelchair Basketball Week: Coach Nordell’s High Praise for Athlete Katie Bajema

We’re stepping into the spotlight once again this National Wheelchair Basketball Week, this time focusing on a rising star on the court – Katie Bajema. As part of our special coverage, we caught up with Darrell Nordell, the Head Coach of Team Alberta Wheelchair Basketball, to give us an inside perspective on Bajema’s journey in this dynamic sport.

Bajema came into the scene in summer 2022, introduced to the sport by her second cousin Anika Guillaume, another accomplished wheelchair basketball player. From day one, it was a learning curve. Nordell describes Bajema’s first encounters with the sport as a period of absorption; from mastering the basics of moving the chair, to acclimating to the dynamics of wheelchair basketball. “The one thing that stands out for Katie more than others who come from a stand up basketball background is everything for the past 16 months has been new for her and she really takes all the learning and experiences one day at a time,” Nordell commented. Adding on that she sets manageable goals all while having a big smile on her face and getting the most out of the sport, fun!

She has rapidly evolved as an athlete, quickly earning a spot on the Alberta Canada Winter Games program in 2023. Bajema had some significant minutes at her first big game which captured the attention of the Canada U25 Head Coach Marni Abbott Peters, leading to an invitation to the Women CAN U25 training camp. Through this journey, fellow Calgary, Alberta athlete Anikka Cassidy has offered strong camaraderie, strengthening Bajema’s bond with the sport and ensuring she feels a sense of community along the way.

In Alberta, Bajema is part of a training environment that mirrors the CANADA U25 Women’s program in a lot of ways; the support she receives enhances her ability to perform consistently and maintain a steady pace of progress. The ten-day-long Canada Winter Games offered ample opportunities for Bajema to fine-tune aspects of her routine, from sleep and nutrition to mental and physical preparation.

When asked what makes Bajema unique, Nordell doesn’t hesitate: Resiliency. Bajema is distinguished by her continued commitment to mastering wheelchair basketball, right from her initial days learning to maneuver the wheelchair with one arm to refining her technical skills with every training session. Nordell highlights her relentless spirit, “Katie knows NO limitation in my learning and is willing to try new skills all the time and continues to get stronger, faster and more technically sound each day she trains.”

Nordell has clear advice for other athletes aiming for similar achievements: “Time in the gym and consistent training”. He emphasizes the importance of purposeful, game-like training, no matter what level you’re competing at.

From being introduced to the sport of wheelchair basketball, contributing to a Silver medal win with Team Alberta at the 2023 Canada Winter Games, to securing a spot on Team Canada U25 Women’s Team – Bajema is now poised to perform on the World’s Stage in Bangkok, Thailand.

“No better feeling than putting on the Canada jersey and hearing your National anthem knowing you are playing for your country while others cheer you on in person and back in Canada”

Coach Nordell

Make sure to tune into the 2023 Women’s U25 World Championships October 3rd-9th to cheer Katie on!

Stream Championships live here: https://www.youtube.com/@iwbforg/streams

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