When I was four years old my father gave my brother a skateboard. It took him about 10 minutes to hit his face on the ground. There was blood but thankfully no need for stitches. He could have given up right then and there but he didn’t. He continued to skateboard for another 10 years until he got a car. That was also the day that I learned I could use a skateboard to get around. Yes, I had prosthetic legs since the age of 2 but they were slow and unstable and I wanted to go fast and a skateboard allowed me to go as fast as my little hands could push me. I discovered a new sense of mobility and freedom which I would enjoy for many years to come. It was a great form of transportation, it was portable and didn’t cost me very much to maintain. I used a skateboard to go to school, my friend’s house and even the public library but then came sixth grade.
My dad knew junior high was right around the corner and he decided it was time to get a wheelchair. His reasoning was junior high would be crowded and he didn’t want my hands to get stepped on. So he talked to his insurance company and got me my first wheelchair at age 11. I can’t say I loved it. It was good being up off the ground and able to look people in the face but I lost a certain amount of freedom. The other kids always wanted to push me. It could be a nice break if I was tired but in junior high it was mostly boys pushing me into crowds of people. “Get out of the way”, became my battle cry. The teachers would blame me as if I was some reckless driver but in reality I was just as mad as they were.
I do not have fond memories of that time but the wheelchair did give me the ability to travel farther with a lot less effort. I would go to the closest shopping plaza that was 3 miles from my house with no problem, which would be totally out of the question on my skateboard. And I could more easily carry books on the back of my chair than on my actual back. I would still use a skateboard as needed but, until I was 16, a wheelchair was my main mode of transportation.
At age 16 the wheelchair I had gotten in 6th grade had taken a beating and was not in very good condition. It also seemed tiny compared to my huge shoulders. The family I was living with literally took it out to the dump and left it there. It was 1995 and they didn’t know what to do with it. The pre-Internet days were a sad and lonely time. But it didn’t really matter. I want to start using my prosthetic legs at school, and they became my primary means of mobility the last two years of high school.
My first time in a sports wheelchair was about 16 years old. In our high school if you were nearly 16 you could sign up for Drivers’ Ed. Since it was only a semester course I needed an elective that was also a semester to balance my schedule. So I just looked at what fit my and I found tennis. Not wheelchair tennis, this was a town of 50,000 people in 1994. I was going to play in my standard wheelchair. Well this did not sit well with the tennis teacher. She thought I was going to fall back and crack my head in that chair so she called in a favor to a local wheelchair sport coach. And that was the day I met Art Parson.
Art was the kind of guy everyone loved but as soon as you began to play sports with him that love quickly faded. He was a reverend off the court and dictator on the court. Well he showed up and brought with him an old basketball wheelchair and he and I would play against each other every day. At some point he asked me to play on his basketball team which I did for a year before I moved to Tucson. I can’t say I was any good at basketball but being on a team was exciting and I was pretty fast in a wheelchair. But after moving away I never really thought about playing again.
After graduation I used my insurance again to get a larger chair that I could get around a college campus. From the years 18 to about 26 I used this same chair. It was a Quickie chair that had slight angle in the wheels but it wasn’t anything too exciting. It got me where I needed to go, unless that place required me easily putting it in the trunk of my car. So at 26 when I was about to take a trip to New York City for the first time, I went on eBay and bought a new, folding wheelchair, yes like the ones you’d get if you broke your foot. No permanently disabled person would be caught dead with one of these but it was great for quick trips and air travel. I have that one to the present day, though it doesn’t get much use.
About the age of 32 I ran into the coach of the U of A Women’s basketball team and he told me to come by the local YMCA and play with the city team. I tried it out for 6 months and I really was not great and quit. Then I ran into him 2 years later in the parking lot of my local hardware store and he convinced me again to come out. I played with that team for 3 years and used a CAF grant to get a great chair made by Hands on Concept. It changed my game from pathetic to fast but I was still a terrible shooter. But when I returned to the team, I found out my old friend Art Parsons was on the team. In any case, my defense got much better and I had better control in the bucket seat. Playing with the team has been a challenge since we haven’t had a full time coach in two years and we play against very strong competition in our area. But we have a lot of fun and it has gotten me into great shape.
After a few years of playing basketball I was at a mixed adaptive sports tournament in Phoenix called Duel in the Dessert, at Ability 360, the Tucson Lobos where there to play basketball and some players from the wheelchair rugby team took notice of me and asked that I try out for their team. They sent one of their players to our basketball practice a few times I finally said I would come out to play and well I had a great time. I had to borrow a chair for the first season but thanks to another CAF grant and contributions from friends and family I was able to purchase a brand new rugby chair that was custom fitted for me from Vesco Metal. It has been a long season and with only one tournament left I am excited to end the year in my new chair.
Bonus: I was just invited to train with the USAWR (that is the Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby) team at the end of April. If I do well I could be on the practice squad and have good chance of playing in the Paralympics one day. Wish me luck.