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Start Your Impossible!

Last night I was watching the Paralympics in Tokyo and a commercial flashed on the screen that led with Start Your Impossible! The perfect television commercial (Toyota) to run within the Paralympics. Once I saw that line and commercial, I knew exactly how to begin this blog!

I’d wanted to write about the overwhelming admiration I’d been feeling for wheelchair athletes and now, with the Paralympics in Japan being covered on NBCSN and a few other venues, it was perfect timing. I’ve been watching one competition after another as each of these amazing young athletes, gave one hundred and fifty percent on the track, in the lake, on the court, in the pool or on the floor representing the United States of America. They were proud and dignified as they achieved their wins and accepted their medals. Frankly, it’s been refreshing and presents a wonderful balance to the horrors I’ve also been watching with the Afghanistan debacle and ongoing American political scene. I simply needed some balance in my life and these games have delivered.

There was one other reason why I’d been drawn to this year’s coverage, especially the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball games; that’s because my great-niece was playing for Team USA. In the last couple years, I ‘ve been able to connect with this extraordinary young woman, who I knew existed but never had the opportunity to meet. Now, she’s residing in Tucson, Arizona and has recently been named head coach of the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team at the University of Arizona.

Josie Aslakson is twenty-four years old and as the result of a tragic automobile accident, she has been in a wheelchair since she was five. Josie is an inspiration to every person she meets. She exudes love and joy, her smile is infectious, and she seems to lift everyone around her. She’s accomplished and very, very independent. She now owns her own home and drives her own SUV. Just how quickly she maneuvers to get in and out of that vehicle is something to behold.

The reason it’s taken me a while to meet Josie and a few other members of my extended Minnesota Family, as I call them, is that I was adopted when I was a baby and was moved to and raised in Illinois. I didn’t meet my biological mother until I was in my late thirties and with such a distance between us, my newly acquired half siblings (four of them) and I didn’t have much day-to-day interaction over the years. Today, however, we’re all quite close except for my older brother, Gary (Josie’s grandfather), whom I adored but who died sixteen years ago. Gary was special, too, and I can see where Josie gets the love!

What spurred the meeting between Josie and me was an email from her grandmother and father. Through them I was made aware that Josie was now living only two hours away and playing Women’s Wheelchair Basketball at the U of A, so I drove down to catch a game and spend time with her and her father. Reconnecting with Ted, who was visiting, and meeting Josie was a double blessing. With all that said, I now feel compelled to tell you more about Josie and the sport she loves.

Basketball players in wheelchair sports are categorized by their functional mobility not medical classification. Players fall into one of 8 classes with 1.0 (increasing by increments of .5) being the lowest amount of physical function and 4.5 being the highest. It’s all based on the players’ level of impairment and when teams take the floor, no team can have an aggregate number of more than 14 total points for five players in international play. Players who rate a 3.0 to 4.5, for example, have more control over their trunk and muscle movements and in other words have more flexibility with their body’s core. As each player’s category number decreases, so does their functional mobility with the lowest number being a 1.0, which is where Josie falls. Josie often refers to her six-pack as a two-pack and laughs.

Players like Jodie, who are ranked 1.0 for example, are limited in their body movement to forward and backward and in essence most is done using one’s shoulders and arms. Can you imagine being seated and making baskets without torso leverage to twist turn or lift? Yes, using one arm or two, they shoot bank shots, free-throws, three-pointers and layups – the whole nine yards – all while sitting in a wheelchair. They zip down the court in those chairs wheeling as fast as they can and use one wheel at a time to spin on a dime. When a player’s chair tips over (generally from rough contact) she usually pushes herself back up without much, if any, help from a teammate. Watching Women’s Wheelchair Basketball is fast, exciting and the skill with which these women maneuver is something to see. Find a game on YouTube and you’ll be amazed!

Watching the Paralympics this year also introduced me to Men’s Wheelchair Basketball as well as Wheelchair Rugby and another sport called Goalball – a ball and net team competition between players who are without sight. Well, are you inspired yet? Track and field, tennis, swimming, crew, table tennis – I could go on and on. I credit NBCSN for their extensive coverage as well as the Olympic network for live streaming these games. I know the viewership has been huge because of the number of commercials appearing. Advertisers go where the viewers are! I hope the interest keeps increasing for such competition throughout the year because these athletes deserve the support and admiration from all of us.

Just imagine what each of these young people have had to overcome to master the sport they love. Every one of them is unbelievable! Watching them excel makes me want to excel and I know they will motivate you, too.

So, let me leave you with a challenge. When you’re thinking life is too difficult and you begin feeling sorry for the cards you were dealt, or you start complaining that some challenge is too great or takes too much effort - remember this blog and remember Josie. When she’s not practicing basketball, which is most all the time, she’s writing poetry or sitting on her porch, playing her guitar. Or she may be in her SUV driving to points in Arizona to explore or driving back to Minnesota to visit family, all by herself. Josie is someone to admire – a woman full of adventure, spirit, and joy.

To live a life like that, you don’t need to be amazing to start – but you need to start to be amazing. Simply approach each day with a grateful heart for all the blessings you’ve been given and then find something that makes you want to reach for the stars!

That’s when you’ll be able to Start Your Impossible, too!

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