Steve Caine’s story is quite extraordinary. First honing his skills on the streets of Leeds, the current GB Assistant Coach has gone on to have an incredible playing and coaching career spanning over 35 years.
It’s a career which has seen Caine represent Great Britain at three Paralympic Games, claim Paralympic, World and European medals, play for clubs across the world, and coach three national teams.
Born in Leeds, Caine’s life changed forever at the age of 14, after he was paralysed following a fall from a derelict building. “The doctors said it was Judo that saved my life,” Caine recalls, with the accident coming just a few months after he was crowned British junior champion in Judo. “They said it was because I was so used to landing that saved me.”
After the accident, “my biggest problem was being accepted,” Caine says.
“Life was difficult enough as it was. There was no integration within schools back then, so we were segregated, I had to move from a mainstream school to a school for disabled children, so all my friends changed.
“It was hard to find opportunities. The teachers wouldn’t let me do O-Levels because they couldn’t afford the time to focus on one student. It was difficult for me to get an opportunity to do anything.”
Discovering wheelchair basketball
It was during his rehabilitation Caine discovered wheelchair basketball for the first time whilst at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. A taster session led to Caine being part of a team that entered into the Stoke Mandeville Games.
“I was used to pushing around a big heavy chair,” Caine says. “But, when we went to Stoke Mandeville, there were these guys there in lighter weight chairs with camber on the wheel. So, to see these guys playing, it was exciting, and it was going to the Games that really inspired me.”
Inspired by the Games, Caine returned to Leeds looking for somewhere to train. But that proved challenging.
“There was an outdoor basketball court at the entrance of the community where I lived, but, when I tried to join in with the able-bodied players, they said ‘no disabled allowed’. So, I bought two rubber basketballs and I started practicing by myself in the street.
“The cars were honking for me to get out of the way, so, eventually, I went to find somewhere else where I could train. I found an outdoor five a-side football pitch, so I would spend all day there training. There was no basket, so I just had to imagine I was shooting into it.”
When a new sports hall was built, Caine was able to move indoors and use the old sports hall.
“I would go down there from nine in the morning, sometimes even earlier, and if a school came in to use it, I would just sit there for two hours and wait for them to go and then train again.
“I just persevered and did it because, from what I had already experienced, it seemed difficult for a disabled person to build a life for themselves. Wheelchair basketball was the only thing I had.”
In pursuit of his ambition to play for GB, Caine moved clubs from Pinderfields in Wakefield to a club in Liverpool at the age of 18. Still living in Leeds, Caine would drive to and from training, often breaking down en-route in a “broken-down car” that he had bought for about £200.
“That was my life, I was determined to play for GB.”
His determination, work ethic and commitment paid off.
After first being invited to train with GB at age 18, Caine would go onto be part of the Great Britain national team that would win three European Championships medals, including gold in 1995, and silver medals at the 1994 World Championships in Canada, and the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta.
But, with no funding and the cost of travelling to tournaments taking its toll financially, Caine missed out on the chance to make his Paralympic debut at the age of 23 despite being selected in the 1988 Paralympic Games squad.
The financial burden on Caine was becoming too much.
“I was selected for the 1988 Paralympics, and the coach had organised a training session in Scotland for the team. All I had was 50 pence in my pocket, which back then was quite a bit of money, but certainly not enough to get to Scotland and back.
“The coach said he would get a player to pick me up and take me there, but it wasn’t about that, I had had enough, I had no money. I couldn’t take it anymore. He left it down to the players and the players decided it wasn’t right for me to go to the Paralympics because they said I showed a lack of commitment. The coach phoned me and told me that I wouldn’t be going to Seoul.
“I am not a person who holds grudges, so I just got back to it.”
Addicted to training
“It was after missing out on Seoul that I decided I had to do something more with my life,” Caine says. “I would get jobs, but if I wasn’t on the basketball court, I would start panicking. I was worried that I would lose everything.
“I had become addicted to training because I had been training so much. And when I was doing different jobs, I was finding it hard to find time to train. It affected me and I just couldn’t handle it, so I ended up quitting the jobs to focus on training.”
Caine would make his Paralympic debut in Barcelona in 1992. The first of three Paralympic appearances.
“When you go there, you’ve got the opening ceremony, and there’s 80,000 people in the stadium in your first Paralympics, you spend most of the time looking up in the air, looking at the crowd. It’s so easy to get caught up and lost in the emotions of it all. That happened to me in Barcelona.
“In Atlanta , the stadiums weren’t as big, but they were packed. And by that time, we had got into the habit of challenging for a medal, and I think were we also less distracted than in Barcelona. We reached the final and came away with silver, losing to Australia in the final.
“We were competitive again in Sydney  and we really wanted that medal because for many of us it was our last Paralympics so it would have been a great way to end your career but we just missed out to the Americans.”
Around the world
Caine’s club career includes clubs in Spain, Italy and France, as well as a year at the University of Kentucky. After a spell in Spain, where he met his wife, Caine returned to Great Britain following the introduction of funding for GB players after the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta.
After retiring from international wheelchair basketball in the early 2000s, Caine moved back abroad, this time to Italy; first to Sardinia, before moving to Rome, two years later. Caine and his wife then moved near to his wife’s parents in France.
“I found a local wheelchair basketball club who offered me a job coaching,” Caine says. “I stayed there for about seven to eight years coaching and playing.
“A player at the club was from Ukraine and asked me to coach their national team, so I was their coach as well. At the same time, I was coaching a running basketball team in Lyon as I needed somewhere to train. So, they said I could use it free of charge if I coached them, so I was coaching them too.
“Just before I finished coaching the Ukrainian team, before the War in Ukraine, I was asked by another player to coach the Moroccan national team, so I was coaching the Moroccan national team, the Ukrainian national team, a running basketball team, whilst trying to play myself. It was busy but I loved it.”
A return to GB
When he moved to France, that was it, “I had left England for good,” says Caine, “We had built a life over in France.”
But after being appointed as Great Britain’s Assistant Coach in April 2018, Caine returned to England and the GB programme.
As a player Caine came close to winning the World title in 1994, losing to the USA in the final, but just a few months after returning to the GB set-up, Caine was part of the GB Men’s team who became World champions in 2018 with an historic final victory over the USA in Hamburg.
“The one thing you always think about is winning the World Championships. I had come close as a player, so to win that gold medal, to become World champions, it was incredible to be a part of it.”
Two years on, Caine continues to work with the GB teams who are busy preparing for the re-scheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Being away from the court during lockdown was tough for Caine because, even after all these years, Caine can’t bear to be away from the court. “I have been on holiday once and I ended up training! I would never think about having a holiday because I couldn’t be away from the court for that long.”