SALT LAKE CITY — With the end of the 2014 Olympics, there’s sort of a poetry that lingers, flowing into every human arena filled with those you might never expect to compete. One such Utah team and its captain are pushing the envelope to play the game. With partial to no use of legs, these Utah athletes work out in their own way — from the waist up.
In workout sessions twice a week at Neuroworx, a Utah based rehabilitation center, team members twist and turn and extend their arms upward with their hands grasping basketballs. The eyes are sharp, focusing and coordinating every movement. The heads turn quickly to anticipate plays. Everything these team members do is designed to strengthen the upper torso because that’s all they can use to play wheelchair basketball.
“We make sure our core is very strong, very durable, because there is a lot of side to side and up and down movement,” said team captain Marshall Lindsey.
Despite permanent spinal cord injuries, despite spina bifida, despite amputations and more — these young folks calling themselves “Rec N’ Crew” are going to nationals in April and hope to beat the Minnesota Timber Wolves, the number one wheelchair team in the country.
Parent Julie Lindsey said that for this team, “It’s all for one. They want to win this, but it’s also about being best friends for life.” And that’s been the bond that’s held Rec N’ Crew together. Marilyn Blakley first got the team rolling about five years ago. “We put our first tournament together with only about eight to nine kids," she said. "We lost most of our games. I said, ‘Do you want to keep going?’ and they all said ‘yes’ — they loved it. This has made a difference in their life because they’ve become independent. They know they can do things.”
Out on the court, the wheelchairs spin, break and bang, and sometimes tip over. The wheels are tilted for faster maneuvers and to protect the hands, which for player Josh Poulson, may not always work.
“It’s pretty difficult,” Poulson said, “because your hands are all you’ve got in wheelchair basketball.” The fingers are even more important to player Jordan Sorenson because unlike his colleagues, he doesn’t have all his fingers. “I can’t grip as good as say someone with a lot of fingers, so it’s harder. But I’ve kind of adapted and learned how to do it with a wheelchair my whole life,” he said.
Rec N‘ Crew team members come from all over, from different schools. It’s sort of like a juniors version of a Team USA. Poulson, who only has one leg, said the wheelchair became a part of him right from the first practice.
“I went to practice and got in a chair, and fell in love with it,” he said.
Marshall Lindsey, who suffered a spinal cord injury from an ATV accident, echoes Poulson’s sentiments.
“I was laying in the hospital bed feeling like my whole life involved sports, and they were taken away," Lindsey said. "And then I found this and grabbed it and ran, so to speak.”
Running on wheels across the court and preparing for nationals, the unity, the camaraderie this team has felt from the very first game has never wavered.
“It’s awesome,” Poulson said. “I love everybody on it. I mean they’re like friends and family to me.”
“There’s something about this sport," Lindsey said. "There’s something about coming together — people with different aspects with different injuries — all coming together. It’s just a different camaraderie.”
There’s a tighter bond, with more rewards than any of these players expected. And when Lindsey’s role as captain ends this fall, he’ll enter the University of Missouri on a full five-year scholarship, playing on the school’s Division 1 wheelchair basketball team. Beyond that, Lindsey said he has his eye on the Paralympics.
“I’m looking toward either a U-23 team for 2016 or maybe even a men’s team," Lindsey said. "I’m going to shoot for the stars and hope to land somewhere.”
Shooting for the stars is something that’s become quite contagious for this team. Lindsey said he is ready to move on because of what he’s learned from Rec N’ Crew.
“To put in that much work, that much effort, to put that much of yourself into something and then to see your reward — to see the end result finally after the process is said and done — it’s something you can’t explain, something you can’t put into words," Lindsey said. "It’s just emotional.”