By Sarah Bartnick, WTC Stratcom
It’s been 26 years since the car accident outside Fort Lewis, Washington, that left Jimmy Green a paraplegic and ended his Army career. And 24 years since he discovered wheelchair basketball.
“As soon as I rolled into that gym, a light came over me,” said Green of the day he skeptically ventured into an interest meeting for a new team in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. “It gave me my identity back—I realized I could still be an athlete.”
Green went on to an illustrious wheelchair basketball career, winning the Division 3 National Championship in 2008 and as a current member of the Orlando Magic Wheels. He’s seen the game evolve over the last quarter-century, with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association growing to a league of 88 teams across three divisions.
“The technology of the game has changed a lot,” said Green. He explained that players originally used regular wheelchairs. Over time, players started using chairs with additional tilt—called camber—to improve the turn velocity and stability. A fifth wheel was added in the back. Now, players at all levels use chairs specifically designed for this sport, and many elite athletes order chairs customized for their individual bodies and abilities. Players customize the wheel size, specify the seat height, and choose between aluminum and titanium frames, among other options.
According to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, the sport originated in 1948 with World War II Veterans, primarily paraplegics and spinal cord injuries. In 1960, it earned a spot in the Rome Paralympic Games, and today, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation estimates that approximately 100,000 people around the world play wheelchair basketball for recreation or in competition.
Despite his active participation in a wide variety of adaptive sports and competitions, the Warrior Games captured Green’s attention after he saw a WTC video.
“The Warrior Games are a different dynamic, more exclusive,” said Green. “Getting selected was a challenge, plus there’s the opportunity to contribute to the Army team. The other competitions are focused on the individual, and knowing that my performance impacts the other Army athletes is a cool feeling. I feel like a Soldier, a member of a unit again.”
Green sees adaptive sports as a key element to his continuous recovery over the last 26 years. He credits it with helping him push his physical limits and emotionally, regaining the confidence to stretch his abilities in all walks of life. Sports also introduced him to a broader community of people with similar physical challenges.
“Being around other injured people helped me not feel alone,” he explained. “You talk to other guys with similar injuries and share little tricks about how to thrive.”
Overall, adaptive sports helped Green understand that he was still the same person he was before his injury. “It gave me my identity back,” he beamed. “When you roll out on the court, you’re just an athlete playing a sport.”
Watch Green and the rest of the Army wheelchair basketball team defend the 2012 gold in the Warrior Games Gold Medal Game Wednesday, May 15 on ESPN at 6:30 pm EST.