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.
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!