Wheelchair Basketball - William Pieczarka
When the problems
are in the head

William sometimes travels “through the fog” with his wheelchair.

At first glance, it is rather surprising when individual competitors climb out of their wheelchairs after wheelchair basketball matches at the INVICTUS GAMES DÜSSELDORF 2023. But there is more to it. This is a story about this.

The scene after the final signal, after three times eight minutes of wheelchair basketball, is unusual. William Pieczarka rolls to the sideline after the second defeat in the second group game of the “Unconquered 2” team against New Zealand (2:5), high-fives his teammates, stands up, grabs his black backpack and strolls towards the dressing room.

Wheelchair Basketball - William Pieczarka

He does not need a wheelchair for everyday life. Nevertheless, he is eligible to play for the mixed team, which consists of nine US Americans and three Englishmen. “The problem,” the athlete says frankly, “is rather in my head.” The marine soldier experienced heavy explosions very close to him during missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then, his eyes are very sensitive to light.

Even on the field, he wears dark glasses that block most of the rays. The only problem is that “the glasses fog up sometimes, and then I’m whizzing through the fog. William adds with a grin: “But that should not be an excuse when I play badly.”

The result is highly incidental for the versatile competitor from Springfield/Massachusetts. “Such an international team, that’s great,” says Will, who has also tried out for the mixed rugby team. “We had two interpreters because the team also included Koreans and Ukrainians. It was a wonderful mess.”

He loves this connection through sport, but he came up with this idea only recently. “Until a year ago, I only saw a gym from afar and didn’t do any sport at all,” says the US athlete.

He is certainly one of the most striking figures at the INVICTUS GAMES 23 presented by Boeing. Dark glasses, a bandana with the US flag and a long, thick beard: this is how he will still be seen at the competition venues of the MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA in the coming days. “I’ll try out everything,” says the former marine soldier, who also competed in indoor rowing on Tuesday, then also signed up for swimming (Wednesday), table tennis (Thursday) and archery (Friday).

Irrespective of the sporting results, he enjoys the international get-together and speaks highly of it. “This is heaven,” says Will, which means that he finds the event in Düsseldorf heavenly, “it’s a dream to be there. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from, everybody should approach each other and live together peacefully. That works out very well here.”

Wheelchair Basketball - William Pieczarka

After 22 years he resigned from the service, the change was not easy for him. It is important not to just live in the day. Everyone needs a mission, a task, a specific occupation, for example with different sports. “That gives me a lot, and I haven’t tried everything by a long shot.” Winter sports would appeal to him, maybe, he says, he’ll tackle that one day soon.

Before that, after returning to Germany, he will meet his brother again in his homeland, whom he has not seen for years. He will tell him about the “heaven” in Germany with many very special encounters. And about the great sports at the Invictus Games.

Author: Oliver Bitter