British Wheelchair Basketball players Robyn Love and Laurie Williams are two happy-go-lucky women who beam from ear-to-ear when they talk about their love for each other. The two have found each other – ready to spend the rest of their lives together side by side.
Their story began even before the two had ever seen or spoken to each other. In fact, it began when Robyn Love was watching the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games on television, where she saw a wheelchair basketball game for the first time. But what she didn’t know was that her now-fiancée Laurie Williams is making her Paralympic debut on that day, and Love is watching her. “I just thought to myself, ‘That looks interesting, I want to try that!”‘ Love recounted with a laugh.
In November 2013, Robyn Love joined the Lothian Phoenix Club. She was born with arthrogryposis – a rare condition in which the muscles of her right leg are shortened – she is classified as a 3.5-point player. Born in Ayr, Scotland, she has great talent, and she was invited to attend a GB national team training camp just one year later. In December 2014, she took part in their Christmas Camp and shared a room with, of all people, 2.5-point player Laurie Williams: “The camp was pretty exhausting, we trained several times every day and Laurie and I saw each other around the clock,” said Love. As a result, the two got to know each other better and began dating.
In February 2015, Love and Williams became a couple.
“I was still new to the national team, so I was nervous about how the others would react. But it wasn’t a problem at all for the team that Laurie and I were a couple,” Love said. “Wheelchair basketball is also our profession at the same time, and we behave very professionally there. On the team, it doesn’t stand out that the two of us are a couple,” Williams added. The two practice together five times a week with the team. This discipline demands a lot from both players: “We motivate each other pretty well. We have different strengths and weaknesses in our game – so we can complement each other and help each other develop,” said Laurie Williams. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t get on each other’s nerves sometimes!” she added with a laugh.
In 2016, the two are mastering the Paralympics in Rio together as part of the British team. For Love, it’s her first Games; for Williams, it’s her second. “We’ve talked a lot about what we expect from each other during this time. There were some difficult conversations involved, but if you want to make it work as a couple and as a team, communication is key. I’m grateful that we can share this special memory together,” Love said. “It was also good to know that we could rely on each other and push each other, especially during this time,” Williams added.
The couple described wheelchair basketball as an extremely tolerant community.
“When I started playing wheelchair basketball, there were a lot of gay players on my team. I immediately felt comfortable because I didn’t have to hide. I had role models in my sport,” Robyn Love shared her experience. Her fiancée Williams confirmed, “Within British Wheelchair Basketball, there is a great representation of the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all athletes with a common goal – sexual orientation shouldn’t matter.” But the two also agreed that the tolerance doesn’t apply to every sport. They told the story of a British football player whose public coming out was taken very negatively by society. “That’s a shame,” Love said. She stressed the importance of organisations that stand up for gay rights, saying, “The more people stand up for who they are, the more society starts to accept homosexuality. People need role models to look up to. Even if it’s not an easy task to be that role model.”
But that’s exactly what Love and Williams are trying to do on Instagram: “If it helps even just one person that I reveal my authentic self on social media, then I’ve already achieved a lot!” Robyn Love is sure. For Laurie Williams, representation is crucial: “There used to be maybe one person in the environment who was also a lesbian. But that’s changed now, because the internet is a wonderful place to find people you can relate to.” They told us that social media is also a great support when coming out. On Instagram and Facebook, they said, there are numerous LGBTQ+ groups that people can join to make new connections. “The LGBTQ+ community welcomes every new member with open arms. It’s so full of pride, love and people who welcome you into their circle and make you feel like you are a part of them. They are your safe environment where you can just be exactly who you are – without fear of being rejected,” Williams emphasised.
The couple agreed that the process of coming out happens on an individual basis and that there is no right or wrong way to do it. “Coming out can be a wonderful thing. Everyone should be allowed to decide for themselves when they are ready,” said Laurie Williams. She was 20-years-old when she came out: “I was very worried about how my family would react. It was a very emotional time for me. But they reacted exactly as you would want them to and that took a huge weight off my mind. I remember my mum telling me, “It doesn’t matter who you love as long as you can be who you really are.” Love was waiting to come out until she had a steady girlfriend: “I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘It’s just a phase.’ When I got my family together to tell them, my parents were actually just happy that I wasn’t pregnant. My youngest of four sisters was like, if you want to be a lesbian, be a lesbian, it’s okay.” The two advise everyone not to put pressure on themselves by coming out and to give themselves the time to accept and feel comfortable in their own skin.
A marriage proposal in the city of love in front of the Eiffel Tower.
The Paralympics and their shared sport have welded the two together. Love and Williams have become an inseparable team not only in basketball, but also in their private lives. After a five-year relationship, Robyn proposed to her Laurie in February 2020: in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris – the city of love. “We were still in Japan with the team before that and then from there we wanted to fly straight to Paris for Laurie’s birthday. So, it was quite difficult for me to plan the proposal,” Love recalled. Their plan was complicated by a 13-hour flight delay: “We went straight home after landing, repacked everything and were already in a cab to the airport an hour later to fly onto Paris. It was all quite stressful, and we were both very exhausted. Luckily, though, in Paris we had a few days to recover before I proposed to Laurie.”
Love chose a very special place for the proposal – in the middle of the greenery, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. As turbulent as the journey to Paris was, the two are very lucky at this moment to be undisturbed by passers-by or tourists. “I asked Laurie if we could take a picture on the lawn. She wasn’t very enthusiastic because it’s not easy at all with a wheelchair on the grass but went along with it for my sake. So, I put my phone on a little tripod and pretended to take pictures, but actually I filmed everything. Then I got down on one knee in front of her and she said yes,” Love said with a smile. Laurie Williams admitted with a smile that she didn’t expect the proposal: “Robyn is not necessarily the best at planning and organising. That’s why I actually thought I was going to be the one to propose.”
There is a look of love in their eyes and both are beaming all over. It’s impossible to miss how happy the couple are with each other. The secret of the two? “You have to accept each other, with all the rough edges. Just like Laurie knows I’m not particularly organised – but that’s just me, so she accepts that and supports me as best she can. Just like I support her,” Robyn Love revealed with a smile. She lovingly puts her arm around her fiancée’s shoulder. The two love who they are and are sure of one thing: true love knows no gender.
Written by Jana Rudolf | Photos: private