Legends of The Game: Josie Cichockyj

Now what makes a legend? Usually it’s what’s on paper, but this blog is so much more.

Josie has world records from her days of being a track athlete and a world record holder for the 100m all the way to 5000m. She has also won the London marathon a number of times.

She captained the GB women for a number of years (1989-92) for wheelchair basketball, as well as competing in the Paralympic Games (1988,1992,1996); she was also a European bronze medalist (1995). After her retirement from the international scene, her support carried on and she went to every Paralympic Games to cheer on and support her friends and players that she coached. In addition to this Josie also became a national champion in table tennis.

The lovable woman from Huddersfield with a huge smile was strong minded and full of fight for what she believed in, determined to complete and win everything she put her mind to. Battling spina bifida all her life and later on battling a serious infection that caused amputation and fought bravely through cancer until the end.

Josie lived to help others and develop their skills on and off the basketball court, her main love was junior development. Josie was head coach of the North West U15 squad for nearly a decade and head coach for the Manchester Mavericks senior and junior team. Her love and devotion showed in last year’s Rio Paralympic Games with her juniors Laurie Williams, Jordanna Bartlett & Gregg Warburton all being selected. I’m sure their success is down to Josie’s hard work and her looking down on them every step of the way.

But why is she a legend? For me, it’s not just what she won or what she achieved it was the person she was and made me become. There are so many things I could say about Josie, the on-court experiences and the off court, the list is so long it’s hard to try and cut it down.

I first met Josie when I was knee high to a grass hopper, ten years of age and not a care in the world; at that time, she was the Under 15 North West coach. I was selected every year for the National Championships that was held at Stoke Mandeville, Josie also selected me as Captain for two of the four years that I played as part of the under fifteens. I was so happy to be given this honour and I loved every minute of it. Under Josie’s command, we won Gold every year bar one, where our rivals at the time, Yorkshire, beat us in the final. The team played the best game of our lives, it was just that Yorkshire were better. Josie, in the last team talk, turned to every single one of us and said “sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say they were better, each and every one of you will be a star in the future, now learn on this and come back stronger next year” and by God we did! We won Gold all the way through to the under nineteens until the squad became too old to compete.

I first joined Josie’s beloved Manchester Mavericks when I was around thirteen, I still remember it like it was yesterday, she only wanted me to train with the juniors but because I lived in Morecambe and I drove so far to train she asked me to train and play with the senior squad. I was so overwhelmed by that achievement and so proud, I decided I’d do everything I could not to let Josie down and that everything I did would be for her. It didn’t matter about age, ability or skill, Josie would give you the chance if you worked hard. Mavericks got promoted that season and we eventually ended up in the first division. This wasn’t just down to the players, this was down to Josie’s constant hard work, developing of juniors and the new players.  Her hunger, time and effort she put into the Manchester Mavericks justifies this legendary status she has.

At the age of fifteen I was asked by the Great Britain head coach (Murray Tresedar) to attend GB camps and was selected to be a part of the under twenty-two squad. Josie’s hard work and hunger for the game came into force once again, she travelled to and from Morecambe to coach me. She drove an hour out of her way sometimes just to pick me up, so I could make training and it’s because of her, I got selected and was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Her sense of pride drove me to become a better player and person, but due to wanting to become a senior international player I was told I must move teams and play in the Super league, a decision that I didn’t want to do. This was due to the thought; ‘if I’m not at Mavericks I’ll lose my friends and my coach’. This was the total opposite of what happened, Josie told me, ‘fight for every rebound and I’ll be here to help whatever the case.’ Josie still rang me, met up for a chat, and the thing I appreciate the most is, she turned up to every camp and as many matches as she could just to support me.

Being so involved with GB as a teenager, I did develop a sense of arrogance and cockiness, (I’m not proud of this!) Josie sat me down and made me tell her everything I was and wasn’t good at- I soon realised the list of negatives was far bigger than positives. Josie taught me that there is no need for egos when it comes to basketball, just skill. As punishment for getting too big headed, Josie made me do everything with my left hand (shoot, pass and dribble) and a lot of up and backs! I have never worked so hard in my life, but what I learnt from that is so much more than I expected, on and off the court.

A few years of being involved in GB, gaining funding and being a full-time athlete, I started taking it for granted and lost funding, selection and was in a bad place. I moved to Frankfurt to play for the Mainhatten Skywheelers but due to family issues, my time was cut short. Again, putting me deeper into this place I didn’t like and my weight made it into the fifteen stone mark.  In typical Josie style, she told me how it was “you’re unfit, unmotivated and not happy, but don’t worry all these things will change, just needs a bit of time. You can’t change the past but you can change the future so it doesn’t repeat” it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders; no pressure or anything. I re-joined Mavericks and lost the weight, gained my confidence and my happiness back! Josie lent me money to help me get to training and she also offered me a coaching job with her company, going into schools and teaching basketball to children, this allowed me to gain contacts and do more and more coaching, this only brightened my future and made me happier.

Josie’s life came to an end on the 2nd December 2014, she was aged 49. It is a day I will never forget, it was a dark, rainy, cold day and I was on my way to visit Josie when I got the dreaded phone call no one should ever receive. I pulled over on the hard shoulder and sat there for around an hour, my life was over, and my basketball career was done, no way could I continue without the one mentor I could talk to, be understood by and be happy to be coached by. Josie was much more than a basketball coach, she was a friend, she was like a favourite, fun bubbly aunt, no doubt her death has changed me and it’s taken me a long time to be happy again, playing basketball. I’ve taken the energy, the fight and the belief Josie once gave me when I had to slowly change my mindset of looking forwards instead of backwards. Every basketball match, tournament or court I go to I still look around for Josie to be smiling and shouting at me to get on with it. The hardest bit of still playing is she’s not here in person, her spirit will never leave and I’m so grateful she has made a major influence in my life.

Josie lived her life to the fullest, she visited over a hundred schools to pass on her experiences and teach the game that she loved for so many years of her life. Josie managed to get herself a degree and even her pilots license. Just some of the examples, there are many more I could list.

Josie changed so many lives with her positive attitude, her determination and her enormous smile, her thirst for life. Achieving this was infectious and it showed with every person she met and coached.

She said to me “shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”

Now the moon seems so far away without you here, but if I can become a quarter of the person and player you were when it’s my time to join you, I can look back in happiness. Until we meet again, I miss you, I love you and I will always be grateful for everything.

Your Friend & team mate, Nat.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lovely Nat very touching remember she’ll always be in your heart when you have a down time just think what she would say probably kick your butt josie loved life and lived like every day as if it was her last so go out there and achieve your dreams even if it takes a long time to reach it never give up. Josie was the most positive person I have ever met even in her most darkest days she would find something good or think of a happy time always making others feel good about themselves and believe that anything is possible through sheer hard work and determination you can reach your goal. She didn’t keep her knowledge to herself she taught others and helped them grow into the people they are now I’ll never forget Josie and what she did for me to believe in myself to achieve my dreams and I’ll carry on doing so with the echo of Josie pushing me on when I think I can’t do it

  2. I was Proud Josie was a friend, she used to tell me I was her Hero as a player and coaching her. But she achieved much more that I did in basketball. Yes I played International Basketball etc, but she achieved more in her career and I am proud I helped a little. Those last few days of her life was sad and happy. I went to see her and held her hand and she looked at me and said Arthur Davies, i just can’t explain the feeling I got, I am just glad I was a little part of her life and glad I was there to say my goodbyes to a lovely girl who deserved more time on this Earth, They say the good die young, it was certainly true in Josies case

Leave a Reply

Close Menu