There are several golden European and World champion medals during wheelchair basketball championships behind her name. Besides that, she also won different individual prices and is known as one of the best wheelchair basketball players of this time. This season, she will play for Hanover United in Germany. Let’s meet Mariska Beijer!
Can you introduce yourself?
Well, I am Mariska Beijer, I am 28 years old. I am a wheelchair basketballer since 2002 and became an European champion with The Netherlands last summer. I also won the World Championship last year and right now we are preparing for the Paralympic games in Tokyo.
When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing wheelchair basketball when I was 11 years old. Before that, I played badminton for a little while. That went pretty good, it is where a became handy with my wheelchair skills. I only missed a kind of spark with badminton. A team mate suggested to visit a basketball practice at JBC in Den Helder. When I entered the court, hearing the sound of dribbling and the noise of wheelchair frames banging at each other, I thought this is it!
Did some of your family played basketball before?
My mother was a pretty good basketballer at school. However, she loved the fanfare a little more, so she continued by playing music. I grew up with a sportive family, but not like a basketball family.
Where have you played basketball?
I started at JBC in Den Helder, where I made progression all the way to the highest level. From there I moved with some of my team mates to Landslake Lions in Landsmeer. I went to the USA to play for the Whitewater Warhawks, and after that I made the transfer to Germany where I played for two seasons at the Doneck Dolphins in Trier. This season I will play for Hanover United.
What do you enjoy about basketball?
I like the combination of tactical and dynamical plays together with strength, how to react in defense and of course playing together with teams. You need everyone to achieve goals. You can play one on one and gain advances out of it, but I adore a nice and quick ball circulation more and make plays for my team mates.
What kind of player are you?
My nickname is ‘The Beast’. I am a quick and physically strong player who wants to compete against every kind of opponent. My opponents aren’t quite happy when I need to defend them.
What do you want to improve?
I want to be more all round, like making high percentage shots from outside. I think I can be a better defender as well, so a lot of things can be better. It’s not that I want to improve one big thing. All the other things that I manage to do a lot (like defending, getting inside the rim or move around the post), those are the kinds of things that I want to improve. Like, from good to better, and from better to best.
Is there someone who inspires you?
When I just was selected for the national team, Elsbeth van Oostrom (the number 15 of The Netherlands) was the center of the team. I was like ‘I want to be like her!’ She quit basketball a couple of years ago, and then I got the honor to wear number 15 for The Netherlands.
In the past few years, wheelchair basketball for women became very popular and successful for The Netherlands. When did all those successes started for you?
I got selected in 2008. It already became pretty professional, because we practiced a lot with each other. In 2010, it realized an exponential growth. More players practiced fulltime, like me. Gert-Jan van der Linden became our coach in 2012, and from there we started to get on the top. We reached the bronze medal for the first time. That was pretty special, but also special because that was the first tournament that I became a starter. From there, we have grown more as a team, and also as a person.
Behind your name, there are a lot of medals, teams and performances. What was the key to all of those prices?
I really think our framework was fantastic organized. We practiced a lot at Papendal with a lot of great coaches. We receive a solid income and got supported by NOC NSF. I don’t think there was one key to success, but a lot of keys that was necessary to build on something pretty special.
You will compete in 2020 at the Paralympics. How do you look forward to that?
I hope it will be a fantastic party! We have a lot of potential in our team, because we played a great World Championship tournament in 2018. We already worked to our way to Tokyo with 14 girls. Our group is pretty close with each other, we like to do everything for our results and for each other. It doesn’t matter if you are a starter or role player or even a bench warmer. We are one team, all as one.
How was it for you to play the European Championship for your own country last summer, and win the championship?
Amazing! We had a couple of tournaments in the past few year in Nieuwegein, Almere and Joure. The finals of last summer’s championship was sold out, live on television, and all of my friends and family watched it. Hearing the national anthem from the crowd is amazing. Showing a lot of fun on the court and seeing that the whole crowd is enjoying it to make it feel special!
Was the last won medal your most special moment?
Pretty difficult to answer! I must confess the one of the most special medal is the one in Frankfurt in Germany in 2013. We played against Germany, in Germany and won with only one point differential. For most of the team it was the first won medal. But Rotterdam was also very special, mainly to show everyone what we are capable of.
Like you said before, you went from the USA to Trier. Why did you choose for Germany?
Germany is a very good competition. It’s a men competition, which is pretty close to my style of playing. It is very physical, but I need to play physical in a smart way, because all the men who play there are stronger than I am. I think I became a less hyper player, and more like a calmer player.
Did you think you would be where you are now when you were younger?
No, not really. In a certain way, I grew up in a hospital until I was 8 years old. I am pretty surprised that my body still works the way it does now. I am also pretty surprised that I am one of the best wheelchair basketball players at the moment. When I see doctors who helped me in the past, I see them thinking: ‘that isn’t Mariska, amazing how she grew up so much!’ When I was a little girl I was pretty shy and timid, but now I can say ‘here I am now!’
The Dutch soccer players didn’t win their World Championship this summer, but get a lot of attention from the media. You win the gold medal for the third time in a row, but don’t get as much of media attention. Does that bother you?
It is quite hard to realise, but to stay positive: we received more attention from the media by winning the European Championship this year than when we won the World Championship last year. I can see some progression. We were on NOS Nieuwsuur during this year’s tournament, and also on Ziggo Sport. Last year, we were on television at Margriet van der Linden her TV show called ‘M’. Of course, it can be better, but I see some progression.
What do you need to become as far as you are now?
Practicing a lot of times, and also leave some things behind. I didn’t go out during my youth for example. I went to the USA. Maybe that wasn’t the best choice during my basketball career, but a grew a lot as a person, which is always good as a basketball player.
You are also a guest speaker and marketer. Can you tell something about that?
Two years ago, I graduated a marketer. However, as professional basketball player it is pretty difficult to find a job. I decided to register myself as a freelance at my own company, so I can approved per assignment.
How do you see your future as a basketball player?
I hope to compete at the Paralympics of Paris and Los Angeles. In order to still play basketball, I must still enjoying it and my back must still be in shape. I always said to my physio that if they see anything that is not good, just say it to me. I am someone that still keeps going and going of nothing is wrong.
Is there something you want say or teach children?
Well, there are no limits. The only limit there is, is the limit you have in mind. When I was young, before my leg got amputated, I just climbed some trees. That is what a lot of children do. I just want to give parents the advice to let their child go and explore. If it doesn’t succeed, then it won’t. And it if succeed, then it is fantastic. You only succeed by making mistakes.