Supermums star for Great Britain at European Para Championships

Robyn Love and Laurie Williams lead wheelchair basketballers to success in front of newborn daughter in Rotterdam 15 Aug 2023
Three female wheelchair basketball players on court.
Engaged couple Laurie Williams and Robyn Love are competing together in front of their daughter at Rotterdam 2023
ⒸBritish Wheelchair Basketball / SA Images
By Ayano Shimizu | The IPC

Great Britain's women's wheelchair basketball team are through to the semi-finals of the first European Para Championships. For teammates and engaged couple Robyn Love and Laurie Williams, at the heart of their campaign is a very special guest in Rotterdam - their newborn daughter Alba. 

For Love, proving that "mums can do it" is her new mission on the court, with both her and fiancee Laurie fighting for the European title less than five months after their daughter was born.

“Being a parent, I think it grounds you and makes you realise what’s important. So that’s why I’m grateful that Alba is able to be here with us," explained Love. 

"People in sport always talk about their ‘why’, like ‘why are you doing this? What is it for?’ and we have our why with us 24/7 while we compete here.” 

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to show that mums can do it, parents can do it. Hopefully we can do it here on this stage.” 

Williams, who has competed at three Paralympics, said taking to the court in the Dutch city has been a "special moment for the whole family".

"For me, personally, it's a bit more special this time around. I've had to work quite hard to get back up. I've got a four-and-a-half month-old baby so it's been challenging but I've got a lot of support," she said.

"So far we've had a really good tournament, we've obviously achieved our goal of getting into the semi-final. Now we obviously have to win and get into the final to qualify for Paris (2024) and that's our primary objective."

Williams is back in action on the court just five months after giving birth Ⓒ Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The road to success 

Great Britain have joined hosts Netherlands, Germany and Spain in the European Para Championships semi-finals. Strong wins over Türkiye, Spain and France saw them qualify for the final four.

Great Britain will play against Germany in the semi-final of the tournament, which doubles as a qualifying opportunity for Paris 2024.

"As always the group stage is a great opportunity to build and I really do feel like we built throughout every single game and we matured as a group and as a squad. And that's exactly what you want," said Love.

“Robyn, she has a lot of power, she has a lot of courage. When you see her play, she is playing with a lot of intensity and she shows everyone that we are here to win,” Great Britain head coach Miguel Vaquero Maestre said. 

“Robyn became a mum a couple of months ago, and it’s impressive how she’s able to manage a sports life and her personal life,” he added. “Being here with a baby and with Laurie is amazing.” 

‘I love basketball’ 

Love, who took up wheelchair basketball after watching the London 2012 Paralympics, made her first Games appearance for Great Britain at Rio 2016

She says her journey in wheelchair basketball has been an “absolute whirlwind” from sitting in a basketball chair for the first time, to playing on the biggest international stage. At Rio, the British team finished fourth before getting knocked out in the quarter final at Tokyo 2020

But after the Games, Love's tough competition schedule including both the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games led her into a "negative space". In May 2023, she announced she was retiring from all international events. 

“Tokyo was a tough experience. I think we went in thinking we would do really well, and I was still carrying that experience around with me,” she said.  

“I think I was burned out and I felt like the only way I could almost step away was to really step away.” 

Love initially retired from international competition earlier in 2023 Ⓒ Adam Pretty/Getty Images

While she was away from the basketball court, she spent time with her family and her newborn daughter. She watched every game that Great Britain played at the IWBF Wheelchair Basketball World Championships in June, rooting for her teammates from her home. 

And gradually, she regained "self-love" and confidence alongside her desire to play again.

“By realising that basketball isn’t everything, I was able to accept that for me, basketball is everything,” Love added. “I love basketball. It’s been almost 10 years since I first sat in a wheelchair basketball chair.  

“I love the game, and I want to play the game. Having that short break just brought that back to me, and I just genuinely felt like my positive self again.” 

Love returned to competition with the national team in time for Rotterdam 2023, but one of the trickier discussions she still has to have with Williams is whose vest Alba will wear when she is watching her mums compete. 

“Laurie and I now have to debate does she have ‘Love 15’ or ‘Williams 8’? I don’t know maybe she’ll have 23 to just make up the difference,” she laughed. 

Williams and Love haven't decided which number shirt daughter Alba will wear Ⓒ European Para Championships 2023

“Will I want my daughter to play sports? I think that would be amazing. Obviously if she doesn’t want to, it’s fine,” she said. “But Laurie and I love football, so if she could be a little Lioness – the Women’s World Cup is happening right now – I would absolutely love it.” 

One more year 

For Love, Paris is a special place – the French capital is where she proposed to Williams. Next year, it is where she wants to compete with her teammates and make history for Great Britain. 

“My biggest dream right now is to qualify for Paris. One year to go until Paris 2024 is on 28 August, which is my birthday. For me, I am super excited about that,” Love said.  

“Do I think the team is ready? Yes, I absolutely think the programme is ready,” she added. “We came close in (Rio) 2016 and I know it is within our fingertips. We want to make history as the first GB women’s team to bring home that Paralympic medal.” 

The wheelchair basketball semi-finals at the European Para Championships take place on 16 August.  Visit the European Para Championships website for full results and to watch live coverage.