SIMON MUNN is a big man – in or out of his wheelchair. And that is one of the main reasons why the British basketball team picked him for the Paralympics in the first place 19 years ago.
As London 2012 creeps closer, Munn is now heading for his sixth Paralympic Games in a team who know him as ‘The Big Man’.
He has a silver and two bronze medals to show for a Paralympic pedigree that stretches back to Barcelona in 1992, a trip he regarded as a holiday after an horrific accident on a railway line left him without his left leg.
“A gold at London would just make the 22 years worthwhile I guess,” said Munn, counting back the years to the day when, a little worse for wear after a few drinks, he took a late-night shortcut home from the pub across some railway lines. “I mean, I have had a fantastic career, it would just be the icing on top of the cake.”
Munn stumbled on that journey home in Milton Keynes and his left foot became trapped in points. No one heard his shouts for help and he lay there waiting for the inevitable.
The disability in our sport is absolutely secondary. We play sport and that’s it.
After a train had severed his leg, Munn, a powerfully built 6ft 5in builder, managed to drag himself to a road where a motorist found him and saved his life as he lost blood at an alarming rate.
He does not mind retelling the tale, but he has been around the scene so long he is “a little bored” of it, pointing out that life with partner Michele, a care-worker, and their two-year-old son Henry at their cliff-top home in Peacehaven, Sussex, is good.
“In basketball, I am classed as a minimal disability even though I am an above-knee amputee,” said Munn, who gets around on two feet most of the time with a prosthetic leg.
“There are people paralysed from the belly-button down and when you see people like that just getting on with their lives it makes you think. In this game, you never see anyone moan; you just see inspirational people.
“The disability in our sport is absolutely secondary. We play sport and that’s it.”
In fact, the disability in wheelchair basketball is almost irrelevant. Perhaps that is why it has become a showcase event for the Paralympics.
“Except for the wheelchair, our basketball is the same as for the able-bodied,” added Munn. “The markings on the court are the same, height of basket is the same, the rules are virtually the same. It’s a fast, aggressive sport and I love it.”
Munn, a footballer before his accident, took up basketball after much nagging by his physio, whose husband was a member of the GB wheelchair team. Still recuperating, Munn was picked for the Barcelona Games at 22.
“I didn’t get picked because I was a fantastic player but because I was big. I guess they wanted me to get the bug because they felt I would be a really good player after a few years. I did all right out there, but I always class Barcelona as more of a holiday because I was so green in the game.”
Now Munn is the talisman of a team who recently won the European Championship for the first time in 16 years and are one of the favourites for London 2012.
Munn, 43, has said London will be a swansong, but is now beginning to doubt that. He said: “My coach says I am still a big part of the team. I still love it you see, and don’t want to retire. If I stay fit, why not carry on?”
KNOW THE SPORT: WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL
THE GAME: Started by injured World War Two veterans and played in more than 80 countries. It is so popular that able-bodied players take part in domestic events but are not eligible for internationals. Ever-present at the Paralympics since the inaugural Games in Rome 1960, the women’s competition joined eight years later.
OLYMPIC FORMAT: Teams compete in two pools before knockout stages. Players have varying degrees of disability given a rating of 1 to 4.5 (the lower, the greater the disability). During play the five players on court must not have a points total of more than 14. Courts and scoring system is same as basketball. To be played at the North Greenwich Arena (the 02) from August 30 to September 8.
BRIT WATCH: Both men’s and women’s teams are ranked in the world’s top five.