Canada’s Mutware using injury as catalyst for change through wheelchair basketball

Blaise Mutware has found what he calls his sanctuary — on the basketball court he’s at peace.

But how he got there, now as a part of the Canadian men’s wheelchair team, Mutware could have never imagined.

Nine years ago, his life would change forever at age 20. In what he describes as a robbery that went very wrong, Mutware was shot five times. 

“Guys decided to rob me. They are armed and I didn’t know they were armed,” said Mutware, who is making his second appearance at the Parapan Am Games for Canada, taking place in Santiago, Chile.

“I was trying to fight them off physically and one of them pulled out a gun and shot me five times — two in the spine, two in the legs, one in the arm.”

He suffered a spinal cord injury and was told by doctors he would never walk again.

“Doctors told me the chances were slim to none. But I overcame that with rehab and wheelchair basketball,” Mutware said. 

A year after his injury, Mutware found wheelchair basketball. Being on a court wasn’t totally new since he played stand up basketball while growing up in South Africa and Zimbabwe before settling in Toronto at 13.

Mutware, pictured following through on a shot during practice, found wheelchair basketball a year after suffering a spinal cord injury. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

Instead of Mutware’s injury ending his dreams of being an elite athlete, the 29-year-old used it to become a catalyst for change. 

“In a sense it was a blessing in disguise because it did change my life for the better,” he said. “I got into sports and got out of the lifestyle I was in before. Wheelchair basketball has opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”

The Canadians have started the Games undefeated after convincing victories over Chile and Venezuela. Mutware has played valuable minutes and scored in both games, including an eight-point effort in Sunday’s 82-42 win over Venezuela.

Learning from the ‘GOAT’

He was with the team in Lima four years ago. Since then, his role has certainly evolved.

“I’m growing as an individual and player. I learn from the GOAT. My role has changed from being a bench player to having a more important role.”

The GOAT, or greatest of all time, to whom Mutware is referring is Patrick Anderson.

Anderson is widely regarded as one of the greatest wheelchair basketball players and has represented Canada at several Paralympics and Parapan Am Games.

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Featured VideoAfter a hiatus, veteran player Patrick Anderson is back on Team Canada with sights set on Tokyo 2020.

Now 44, Anderson is trying to help lead the younger players, including Mutware, into the next chapter of wheelchair basketball in the country. 

“Blaise is going to be a cornerstone of this team moving forward. I already see leadership qualities emerging in him,” Anderson said.  

“I enjoy seeing him grow into a leader because the team is going to need that when the old guys are gone.”

Mutware is a high-energy player and has a presence when he takes to the court but that wasn’t always the case.

A men's wheelchair basketball player smiles while controlling the ball.
Patrick Anderson, pictured, has been a mentor for Mutware. Anderson is widely regarded as one of the greatest wheelchair basketball players and has represented Canada at several Paralympics and Parapan Am Games. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

Anderson recalls the first time he met Mutware. 

“I remember meeting Blaise, I think it was in 2015 when I wasn’t on the team but around it, he was brand new. Just injured. Didn’t make a peep. He was quiet and shy. But I saw him buzzing around the hoop. Always had a ball in his hand,” Anderson said. 

“There was a hunger and interest there right off the bat. I see him every year getting a little more focused on the things he can bring to the team and is sharpening his game.”

Canada’s head coach, Matteo Feriani, echoes Anderson’s thoughts on Mutware. 

“He brings huge energy and is a great teammate. He can become a really dominating player,” Feriani said. 

‘I wouldn’t change anything to this day’

Mutware now attends the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he’s studying and playing basketball. Everything about his life before his injury looks very different now. A good different, according to Mutware. 

“I wouldn’t change anything to this day,” he said. 

“Sport has meant a lot to me and has always been part of my life. Wheelchair basketball was a chance for me to overcome my adversities.”

Now he wants to play a role in helping Canada win the Parapan Am Games and qualify for the Paralympics.

“Playing with this group of guys, we’re a family. We’ve been through a lot together. I’ll ride for them through thick and thin,” Mutware said.

And he feels the support for everyone watching and cheering back home. 

“Shoutout to all Canadians and everyone supporting our wheelchair basketball team. We love the support.”

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