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Here at The Ghosh Center, we share many stories of courage and kindness, aspiration and accomplishment. This one holds a special place in our hearts.
It’s the story of Katie Fitzpatrick’s nephew, A.J., and her son, Aiden. At 13 and 11, respectively, they’re best of friends and best of cousins. They love to hang out together but haven’t always been able to participate in many of the same activities.
When A.J. was born, he was diagnosed with a condition called arthrogryposis, where joint contractures lead to significant muscle weakness. As a result, A.J. has limited movement from the waist down, which kept him from playing many of the sports he loved when he was little. All this changed when the family discovered SportAbility of Iowa, an organization that creates sports opportunities for people with physical challenges. (Aiden and A.J. are pictured above with their basketball coach and Aiden’s sister, Lexxi.)
Katie and her family have been involved with SportAbility since A.J. was 6 years old, participating in programs like adapted sports camps. Their activities really ramped up this year this year when SportAbility created its own wheelchair basketball team, the Rolling Panthers.
The Rolling Panthers is a junior prep team registered with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA). As members of a first-year team, A.J. and Aiden were excited about the opportunity to play together and to compete in tournaments all over the Midwest. Little did they know how much fun they would have and how far they would go.
They’ve had an amazing season. Earlier this year, A.J. was named February’s Nike Player of the Month in the junior prep division. His accomplishments included:
Game after game, the team pulled together and played their hearts out. Their hard work paid off big time. The team earned a spot at the national championships in Louisville – an impressive first as no first-year team has ever made it to the national tournament.
In March, the Rolling Panthers traveled to the Iowa State Capitol. To recognize the firsts they’ve achieved, they retired jersey #1 and presented it to legislators, including Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer and Representative Art Staed.
Last month found Katie and her family at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville ready for some serious basketball. The 2018 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament featured title competitions for some 1100 athletes on 96 teams in three junior and three adult divisions.
And in the crowning achievement of their first season, the Rolling Panthers came in 12th in the nation. Katie, and all their fans, are bursting with pride. A.J., Aiden and all their teammates are champions on and off the court. We congratulate them on a great season and can’t wait to see what they’ll do next! To stay up in the loop, follow the Rolling Panthers on Facebook.
SportAbility of Iowa was founded in 2010 to help people with disabilities enjoy an active lifestyle, while demonstrating the importance of accepting and respecting of diverse populations. SportAbility of Iowa is also a Paralympic sport club, a community-based program developed in partnership with US Paralympics to involve youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in sports and physical activity, regardless of skill level.
In 1946, World War II veterans began playing and organizing wheelchair basketball. The NWBA was founded in 1948. Within a few years, wheelchair basketball became the number one sport for individuals with disabilities, and the NWBA grew to include VA and women’s teams. Today, the NWBA comprises over 200 teams and has led to the formation of hundreds of similar teams around the world.