Sneaks Duck, Gold Medalist

Sneaks rebounded from a spine injury to become a medal-winning Para-Olympian basketball player

Sneaks Duck was rarely seen without his orange basketball in his hands. Whether he was twirling it on a feather tip, bouncing it on the ground in a steady dribble, or simply tucking it delicately under his wing, the inflated orange sphere was his constant companion. He played basketball for his school, the community center, and in a church rec league, plus attended three weeks of basketball camps every summer. He were a lot of different jerseys in many colors, with many numbers. Sneaks dreamed of being a star when he got to high school and hoped to someday earn a college scholarship to play ball. 

Everything changed the rainy Thursday that a truck spun out and hit their car as Sneaks and his dad were coming back from the grocery store. After weeks in the hospital, and months of therapy, Sneaks was finally getting used to maneuvering in his new wheelchair. The car accident had left him with an injured spine, but the little duck refused to give up his positive attitude his love for basketball. In fact, he decorated his wheelchair with basketball stickers, and his church rec league teammates worked together one Saturday to help him paint the wheels of the chair to look like basketballs, complete with the accented white stripes.

Although he felt tentative at first, Sneaks started dribbling off the side of his chair one day and realized the basketball still felt like it fit his wing tip really well. And when he spun the ball on the end of a feather, it still stayed in place like it always had. For Sneaks, a new dream began to take root.

What if I could still play basketball in my wheelchair? he wondered.

Sneaks talked to his dad, and with the help of his physical therapist, they were introduced to a special coach. Coach Mallard was tall and broad, and he wore a shiny jacket with an American flag patch on the sleeve. He asked Sneaks to run a few drills on the court: dribbling, shooting at the net, and weaving his chair through a line of cones on the floor. When Sneaks was finished, Coach Mallard invited him to sign up for a special basketball camp, just for kids with differently abled bodies. He said there would be several other kids in wheelchairs who would attend.

After that first wheelchair basketball experience, Sneaks and Coach Mallard trained together more and more over several years. Although he couldn’t play on his standard high school basketball team, Sneaks was now training for a new goal: the Para-Olympics. 

Sneaks traveled all over the country with an American flag on his jersey, playing exhibition games at different high schools, and eventually different colleges. After a very competitive trials process, Sneaks was able to call his parents and tell them he had been selected to represent America at the Para-Olympic games! 

The most amazing part of the experience for Sneaks was not playing basketball after all, nor was it sitting on the winners podium and receiving a shiny metal… the most rewarding thing was seeing so many differently abled people succeeding in diverse ways. There were runners, skiers, swimmers, powerlifters, archers, and more who were astounding, high performance athletes. He felt honored to be sitting on such an elite team. 

The accident so long ago that injured his spine changed his goals, but not his dreams of playing the sport he loved. “I can accept failure,” he said, “but I can’t accept not trying.”