Erica's Passion For Wheelchair Basketball
Author: Sarah A. McCarty
Inspirationally Turning Negative Into Positive
Erica Wilson, from Alabama, USA used to dance. But when a neurological disease left her without feeling in her legs at 12 years old, she traded in her ballet slippers for a set of wheels. Now, the 17-year-old is a starting player for the Lakeshore Lakers wheelchair basketball team and was recently selected as one of five inspirational athletes nationwide to be featured in Gatorade's 'Win From Within' video series campaign.
At 12 years old, Erica Wilson was in love with dancing. She had spent the last eight years practicing tap, jazz, clogging and ballet. She was supposed to start pointe the next year. "I didn't really do any other sports like most of my family," she says. "And growing up with two younger brothers, dance was just something different. It was a good way to express myself. I just knew I wanted to dance."
Wilson never missed practice. And even at a young age, she imagined she would be dancing for years to come. Until the day she lost feeling in her legs.
"It was Feb. 23, 2010," Wilson recalls. "It was on a Tuesday. I was supposed to dance on Wednesday." Wilson was in her physical education class playing basketball with her classmates when she felt a pain in the bottom of her lower right calf. "It kind of felt like someone was squeezing my muscles from the inside out," she says.
On the way to the hospital, the pain spread from her right calf to her left leg and up to her waist.
"By the time we got to the hospital, I couldn't get out of the vehicle," Wilson says. "I couldn't walk. I couldn't feel my legs."
She was transferred to Children's Hospital. She suffered from transverse myelitis (TM), a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Wilson stayed in the hospital for six weeks while undergoing treatments of cleaning and exchanging blood and physical therapy. Four years later, Wilson now has regained some sensation and movement in her legs.
"I like to describe myself as a floating torso," she says. "I only have partial sensation. Sometimes I know when somebody's touching my leg, more than half of the time I don't. At the same time I have regained practically full movement in my left leg and physical therapy has definitely done a great job at strengthening the muscles. I walk with two canes, and I really do hope to kind of further that because there is no timeline in recovery in TM."
Wilson says her improvement is more than the doctors ever expected, and she credits part of her recovery to the quick diagnosis at Children's of Alabama hospital.
"Definitely an important part about TM--and this is why I try to get awareness out there--is to treat it as soon as possible, especially in an acute case like mine. Your nerves are dying and the connection with the nerves and the brain and the myelin surrounding the nerves is dying and being cut off and you want to save things as soon as possible."
While Wilson has improved, the last four years weren't easy, and letting go of her passion for dance was a struggle.
"I didn't understand why I wasn't able to do something I loved so much. It was very hard to deal with for the longest time. It wasn't until I found wheelchair basketball two years after being diagnosed with TM that I found something I loved even more than I loved dancing, which I did not think was possible."
Wilson says after returning home from the hospital, she was a stubborn 12-year-old girl who just wanted to stay in bed.
"I had given up on a lot of things that weren't expected for disabled kids," she says. "I didn't anticipate on ever doing anything real physical."
Her mother drove her to the Lakeshore Foundation, which serves people with physical disabilities throughout Alabama, to watch wheelchair basketball. But Wilson was turned off from the sport when she saw someone fall in their chair. "I didn't want to get to hurt," she says. In the summer, she attended camp at Lakeshore and a friend encouraged to give it another shot.
"I kind of flashbacked to playing able-bodied basketball for the last time with friends in my physical education class, which was kind of an astounding feeling and very nostalgic."
Wilson says she wanted to prove to everyone that just because her ability to walk normally was taken away from her, her drive to do things had not been. She's now a starter on the Lakeshore Lakers team.
When Gatorade announced its 'Win From Within' campaign, recognizing unique athletes who have achieved greatness in sports against all odds, her coach emailed the players on the team and Wilson submitted her story.
Wilson was one of five athletes chosen from a nationwide search.
"I hope to inspire younger children ... to turn a negative into a positive," Wilson says.
Gatorade also sent Wilson and her family to Los Angeles where she met the LA Lakers at their training facility and presented the game ball at a Friday night game at the STAPLES Center. She also participated in the espnW: Women + Sports Summit along with innovators and influencers in the world of women's sports, including WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner, Little Leaguer Mo'ne Davis and US Olympian Hilary Knight.
"I met Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and the coach. I watched them play, and it's just really weird how wheelchair basketball and able-bodied basketball can be so parallel and similar in a lot of ways. It's a lot of the same rules. A lot of the same passion that's seen on the court."
Wilson also learned about her own game while visiting the team.
"I had a conversation with the coach and Kobe on how to improve myself all around, but mainly focused on how to use my left hand better as far as dribbling and shooting," she says.
'I wouldn't change anything'
She said their advice will help as she continues on her path.
"If I work just as hard as they do and stay just as passionate then maybe I will get to the Paralympics one day and fulfill my own dreams."
Wilson recently visited several ball camps at colleges, and is only looking at schools with wheelchair basketball programs. She says she plans to play for the rest of her life.
"It's made me a strong person both physically and emotionally," Wilson says. "This comes to a shock as many people but I wouldn't change anything."
Congratulations to Erica on her wonderful spirit, inspirational story and awesome achievements. Thanks also to Sarah A. McCarty and AL.com for bringing Erica's sensational achievements to our attention. The team at EduzineGlobal.com look forward to seeing Erica achieve her dream of competing in the Paralympic Games and wish her every success.
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Author: Sarah A. McCarty
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