GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — 120 athletes from around the country and Canada are in Grand Rapids this weekend to compete in the Mary Free Bed Invitational Adult Wheelchair Basketball Tournament.
FOX 17 stopped by Saturday and learned how this is much more than an athletic competition.
“After a traumatic incident, accident, you know, surgery, whatever…they can be an athlete. Life’s not over after disability,” Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports Coordinator and Recreational Therapist Christy VanHaver said. “It’s very fast, very aggressive. You’ll see people fall out of their chair, pop back up and they don’t miss a beat. They’re right back in it, so it’s really fast and fun to watch.”
The athletes, making up nine teams across three divisions, traveled from not only around Michigan, but also California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.
That includes world champion and Team USA gold-medal winning John Boie who joined the Mary Free Bed Pacers this season.
He made his debut with the team on Saturday.
“My team, my club team back home this year, folded. We had some players that got sick, some people that had some other things come up, so I kind of reached out to some local teams to see if they had openings. And I knew Grand Rapids just from playing them so many times over the years,” Boie explained.
He sustained an injury when he was two years old. Boie was introduced to wheelchair basketball when he was 11, and he has been playing ever since.
“I always thought I would end up being a Green Bay Packer, but, by about age ten, I realized that’s probably not going to work out and I went to a wheelchair basketball camp in Whitewater, fell in love with the sport,” Boie told FOX 17. “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people, you know, hearing about their injuries, you know, running into them at a gym or out and about somewhere. Just to encourage them to get into, you know, adaptive sports.”
Boie hopes other people with disabilities get to experience what he has by competing in wheelchair basketball.
“It’s something that’s changed my life for the better. I’ve traveled the world being on Team USA, met some crazy people, traveled crazy places, got a lot of really awesome life experience. And even if you’re not at that level, it does create a really good community of people that are going through or have gone through something similar to yourself, with all the varying disabilities, you know, and it’s kind of fun when you connect with those guys,” he added.
The tournament continues Sunday from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. at the Mary Free Bed YMCA.
Games are free to attend, and the public is encouraged to come cheer on the athletes.
“We’re programming this tournament right in the middle of community, so there’s able-bodied people coming here to work out that are members of the Y and oh, they just happened to see a tournament going on, a wheelchair basketball tournament. And, for many, you know, that’s the first time they’ve seen wheelchair athletes, you know, compete at a high level, be absolutely amazing athletes at the game of basketball, and it shifts their mindset and their expectations and, and their knowledge about what’s possible with a disability,” VanHaver said.
Click here for more information about Mary Free Bed’s Wheelchair Adaptive Sports program.