Gaz Choudhry has spent over a decade representing Great Britain on the international stage; competing at three Paralympics Games, winning four European golds medals, a historic World title and two Paralympic bronze medals.
His latest medal triumph came just a few weeks ago in Tokyo and it was, arguably, his greatest honour yet; leading ParalympicsGB to a brilliant bronze medal in Tokyo after stepping-up to the role of men’s player-coach just days before Tokyo 2020 after GB’s Head of Coaching and Tactical Development, Haj Bhania OBE, was unable to travel due to COVID regulations.
The way Choudhry led the bronze-medal winning team and delivered outstanding individual performances has seen the 36-year-old recognised on the shortlist for The National Lottery’s Paralympian of the Year – and you can vote for Gaz here.
“What this team achieved in Tokyo is remarkable,” Choudhry said after returning from Tokyo. “It is a huge honour and privilege to be named on the shortlist with so many great athletes who have created moments in history, but this is as much about the team as it is myself because what we achieved was only possible because of the group and I’m really, really proud to represent the team.”
The ParalympicsGB team captivated audiences back home with their resilience and determination to overcome considerable challenges during their preparation, including as they headed out to compete in Tokyo, and during the competition itself.
It was an outstanding team effort by all involved and that for Choudhry is the biggest takeaway from the summer; the way the team has come together to finish on the podium once again at a Paralympics Games.
“Anyone who has ever played a team sport will know the amount of stress the dynamics of a team can give, but when you have an experience like this with 11 other brothers and support staff, the biggest complement I can pay this team is what a privilege it is to play a team sport and being part of this team has made me realise just how lucky I am to be playing wheelchair basketball,” Choudhry added.
But as much as Choudhry is keen to deflect praise of his leadership and standout contributions to the rest of the team, the ParalympicsGB men have individually conveyed admiration and respect for Choudhry’s leadership both on and off the court throughout the tournament and upon achieving their bronze medal.
Being a player-coach is a rare occurrence in elite sport but, while Choudhry admits it took a couple of games to get used to, he and the rest of the team adapted seamlessly to the role change and what was asked of them on the biggest of sporting stages.
“It took a couple of games to find that balance and, personally, I referred back to the idea of being completely engaged with each role I had,” Choudhry said. “When I was playing, for me in terms of mindset and having a long, long mediation practice helped with this as I had to be completely engaged as an athlete. But as soon as there was a break in play to completely engage with the coaching side, I made sure that I got the messages we needed across, and I suppose it was just luck that it seemed to work out.
“But I know one of the narratives maybe was it was all being managed by one person, but it really wasn’t; it was a huge team effort from everyone including all of the support staff who were absolutely amazing and they really were invaluable, and I include the players in that.
“Lee Manning, Ian Sagar, Terry Bywater, Abdi Jama, along with the guys playing a lot of minutes like Harry [Brown] and Gregg [Warburton] and some of the less experienced guys, they filled in the gaps that were needed and everyone played their own part on and off the court.”
Alongside his additional coaching responsibilities, as an athlete on court, there was barely a quarter in which Choudhry didn’t show up to score his share of the points. The three-time Paralympian led the points scoring for ParalympicsGB with 132 points, the fourth highest across the tournament, and was GB’s top-scorer in all but one of their games in Tokyo.
Alongside his impressive points tallies, Choudhry recorded the most assists of any GB player and the third most across all nations (61 assists), recording four double-doubles including a triple-double in the quarter-final against Canada.
Throughout the tournament, ParalympicsGB, including Choudhry, had to dig deep, coming back to win, including their 66:52 quarter-final victory over Canada and against Australia in the pool stage when GB came from 20 points down to top Pool B.
Their fightbacks – both thrilling and nail-biting to watch back home – had fans at home captivated, while on the court in Tokyo it was all about belief.
“We just absolutely had a belief that we could comeback from any kind of deficit, maybe to our detriment at times, but sometimes it’s not always a case of making tactical adjustments, it’s just a case of showing your fight and we saw that in the Australia game.
“We never lacked self-belief, and for us it was all about being courageous and just rolling the dice whenever we could. We knew this summer has not gone our way; we weren’t the favoured team there, but we knew that if we gave it our best and left everything out there then we could look at each other and be proud of each other.”
After defeat to the host nation Japan in the semi-finals, Choudhry rallied his team once again, top-scoring in ParalympicsGB’s 68:58 victory over Spain in the bronze medal match as the team secured their fourth bronze medal from the last five Paralympic Games.
“We were devastated after the Japan game, but it was important to not just discount that and move on straight away, it was important for us to feel the loss, go through the process, absolute grief, it’s been five years since the last Paralympic Games, so for me it was important for the team to absolutely feel what we were feeling.
“I made a point after the bronze medal game that the bronze validated the team from the outside, but we felt we validated ourselves. All of us, individually, myself, the 11 other guys and all the staff had given everything they could, there was going to be no regrets, and I think we just played that way as well and it manifested on the floor, that was our underlying spirit of the team.
“For me right now, bronze feels very much like unfinished business, if I’m honest, we know this team is capable of more and in three years’ time in Paris, hopefully, we will get a chance to go one game further and two medals higher on the podium.”
From superb team performances to thrilling fightbacks and tense finales, including ParalympicsGB’s stunning one-point victory over Paralympic champions USA in the pool stage, Choudhry says the Tokyo competition was a brilliant advert for Wheelchair Basketball.
“I think all the Tokyo Paralympic games were a fantastic advert for our sport; games going down to the wire, the Australia game, the USA game, the semi-final against Japan, the quarter-final against Canada. Even the final, USA versus Japan. There were so many close games, so many tight games and what an advert for our sport, which is absolutely a world class sport with so many layers of analysis.
“You can marvel at it for its athleticism, you can marvel at it for the individual brilliance, you can marvel at it for the team dynamics, you can be absolutely blown away by the execution and tactics if you’re a fan of basketball. There’s so much in our sport that makes it so fun to watch and such an engaging sport to be part of and a fan of.”
Voting for The National Lottery’s Paralympian of the Year closes at 5pm on Thursday 23 September 2021. Vote for Gaz online here: https://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/projects/view/gaz-choudhry?context=vote
Anyone inspired by Gaz’s story and is interested in getting involved in Wheelchair Basketball can find out more by visiting www.inspireageneration.com.