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Jaco jumps onto the Paralympic birthday wagon

By Mark Etheridge in London

While our wheelchair basketballers will be hoping it rains baskets in their 2012 Paralympic campaign, it has certainly been raining birthdays in their camp.

The code celebrated their third birthday since assembling in Johannesburg for the Paralympics last week.

Last Sunday say Kyle Louw turning 20 and Friday had technical coach Franck Belen turning 43.

This Sunday it was Jaco van Niekerk’s turn to celebrate, in his case, a 24th birthday.

Born and bred in Middelburg, Van Niekerk only started playing wheelchair basketball four years ago and now plays of the Ricoh Pumas.

For many people, spending a birthday away from home is something different but for Van Niekerk its become the norm.

“I’ve been playing in Italy, Holland and Australia for the past four years to have spent most of my recent birthdays away from home,” he said.

Van Niekerk is the team’s all rounder, although listed as a power guard. “I play all three positions, guard, post and centre,” he told Road to London 2012.

At his first Paralympics, Van Niekerk played at the 2009 Under-23 World Championships in France and was also part of the Olympic qualification squad in Morocco last year.

He’s been in a wheelchair for seven years now. “It was a motorbike accident, a guy skipped the red light and hit me,” he recalls. “But I can’t really remember much about it at all because I was in a coma for three weeks.”

Will he be doing something special for his birthday? “Probably not, it will just be another training session,” he grinned.