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Lindsey Zurbrugg shares how hustle and heart helped her win some prestigious hardware

To: Those facing an unexpected challenge

From: Lindsey Zurbrugg #24 (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To those facing an unexpected challenge, 

To put my childhood in a nutshell, every weekend, I would go to church with my family and wear a dress. Underneath my dress, I’d wear a tank top and basketball shorts. The second church was over, I’d run to the gym, strip off my dress and start playing football with the boys. At any moment, I was ready to play sports. 

As far as participating in competitive leagues, I would have done so in every sport in the world, but my mom told me to choose one sport because she didn’t want to be driving all the time. I picked basketball. 

In 2012, at 13 years old, I went to my first basketball camp. It was three hours away from home. By day three of non-stop basketball, I was very sore. The coach suggested yoga. 

I was doing the move, downward dog, and my back really started to hurt. Immediately, I lost my appetite. During the next 12 hours, I noticed I couldn’t use my hamstrings anymore. While warming up for a game and trying to kick my butt, I physically could not move my right leg. The next day, in a three-point shooting contest, I lost my balance. And then the following day, I woke up to some nasty hip-nerve pain. When I tried to stand up, my legs didn’t move. 

That’s when my life took a turn that I never saw coming. 

I was paralyzed. 

After months of being misdiagnosed, doctors told me I had a traction injury due to a tight, tethered cord – a condition I unknowingly had since birth. 

The magnitude of the situation didn’t hit me right away. Doctors weren’t sure whether or not my condition was permanent. So, in the beginning, I thought I might get better, and life would return to normal. But after a year or two, I began to accept that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. The most challenging part for me was coming to terms with the idea that I would never be able to play sports with my friends again. 

The most challenging part for me was coming to terms with the idea that I would never be able to play sports with my friends again. 

Thankfully, a nurse introduced me to wheelchair basketball. At first, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know much about it, and I didn’t see the point. My mom pushed me to give it a try, and I am glad she did. A basketball wheelchair is very sensitive compared to an everyday wheelchair. It will turn on a dime and has a big metal bar in the front to protect your toes and essentially ram into people. I thought it was just the coolest thing to be able to go ram into people. Also, I could go super fast. I felt the breeze in my hair, just like I did when I could run. 

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I fell in love with the sport and the community and decided I wanted to be a Paralympian.  

For five years, I shot 510 buckets three times a week. Also, I had three weightlifting sessions, three conditioning sessions, and dribbling drills. I spent about 25 hours a week training for basketball on top of my schoolwork.  

It was all worth it, though. I received a coveted spot on the U.S. National Team’s wheelchair basketball roster, winning a bronze medal in Tokyo. One of my favorite moments was listening to our national anthem as we lined up against the other team.

I felt this overwhelming sense of pride as I thought to myself, “I’m representing my country. I’m one of 12 that get to be here.”

Also, I just won my first national championship with the University of Alabama, where I am pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition. I hope to work as a dietician at Alabama. 

I am very happy with my life. But I, of course, have my moments. There are what I call my paralysis days – days where my situation gets to me. I’ll go to pick something up, and it fails on the ground, and then I go to pick that up, and something else falls. It gets frustrating not being able to do certain things as easily as I would like. 

Then, there are also the times that people, unintentionally, are quite offensive. Some people speak very loudly to me like I’m deaf. I’m not deaf. I hear just fine. When I am out with an able-bodied friend, some only address my able-bodied friend and not me as if they are my caretaker. 

While it bothers me, there is too much negativity in the world for me to add to it. So, I ignore those people, and I move forward. 

Instead, I focus on the aspects of my life that excite me and give me tremendous pride. I’m proud that I’m on the starting five for Team USA and that I received my college degree. I’m proud of the small things like my tenacity, the ability to accomplish my goals, and my work ethic. 

When people ask me if I hope to walk one day again, I tell them I hope I don’t walk again. That’s how much I love playing wheelchair basketball and being a part of the wheelchair basketball community. 

See, just like mine, I know your life took a very unexpected turn. It may seem horrific and really suck right now.  But what I have learned from my life so far is that if you keep pushing, this new path you are on just might be the start of a journey that is more magical than you can imagine.  

Keep your head up. Embrace being different. And go after what you want. 

You got this!

Lindsey Zurbrugg #24
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2 thoughts on “Lindsey Zurbrugg shares how hustle and heart helped her win some prestigious hardware

  1. Lindsey your story is inspirational. For starters congratulations on earning your degree and earning Bronze that is amazing! One of the parts of your letter that resonated with me the most is, “there is too much negativity in the world for me to add to it.” This is so powerful and I could not agree with it more. For my whole life, I have had a speech impediment and it is very easy for me to spend my time thinking about the inconveniences and challenges that come with it. However, it is more important for me to focus on all of the opportunities and things that I have learned from my disfluency. Again amazing letter thank you for sharing!

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