Lindsey Zurbrugg is ready for Tokyo.
A member of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team, Zurbrugg, 23, leaves Aug. 17 and will spend upwards of three weeks in Tokyo for the Paralympic Games, the massive multi-national sporting event following the Olympics, which brings disabled athletes from all over the world to compete.
Zurbrugg's life changed at age 13 while at a basketball camp. She felt an odd sensation while stretching with her team during warmups.
"We were warming up before a game one morning, doing stretches and our coach was like, 'Hey, let's just try yoga,'" Zurbrugg recalls. "We were all trying to do these stretches, but I got into Downward Dog and I pushed my heels into the floor and all of a sudden my lower back just started aching. I thought I just pulled something."
What she didn't know was that she had Tethered Cord Syndrome, a rare neurological condition which effects the spinal cord. Zurbrugg was paralyzed from the waste-down.
"It took me almost three years to accept that I'd never walk again," she said, "but while there are ups and downs, I'm thankful for what I have."
But Zurbrugg, who lives in Hillsboro, doesn't let that slow her down. Countless hours of hard work has helped her reach the pinnacle of her sport.
"I obviously wouldn't be going to the Paralympics if I weren't paralyzed," she said with a chuckle, "and I was too short to play able-bodied basketball, so it's really been a blessing in disguise."
Zurbrugg started playing wheelchair basketball at age 14. She started with an organization called Upward Bound, then played with kids at Faith Bible Christian School in Hillsboro.
"I loved it," Zurbrugg said. "Since I was home-schooled, it was like my one big outlet outside of my house and church. But I'm also really competitive, so I really enjoyed that aspect of it."
From there she got involved with the Portland Wheel Blazers, a member of the NWBA (National Wheelchair Basketball Association), before eventually playing for the NWBA team in Seattle, where she found her niche and started to fall in love with the game.
After a brief time with the women's team in Seattle, she played with the Junior Sonics for two years. The team would frequently travel throughout the country playing in tournaments, and it was at those events that Lindsey started to get noticed by schools such as the University of Texas Arlington, University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she eventually committed to attend and play wheelchair hoops for the Warhawks.
The more she played, the better she got, and the more she began to appreciate what the sport meant to her and the people who play it.
"It's such a community in wheelchair sports," she said. "I vividly remember in able-body sports you're just taught to almost hate your opponent. You don't talk to them, you don't make friends, you're just there to beat them.
"In wheelchair ball, it's such a small community that you know everybody and everybody knows you," she continued. "It's not hard to get connected. However, they're not going to go easy on you, and I will absolutely murder you on the court."
It's that competitive spirit and grit that helped earn Zurbrugg a spot on the Paralympic team this summer.
"It boggles my mind that a little kid from the country can get to a place like this," she said. "It's about doing the work, and this shows that if you work hard you can reach the highest level of playing in the world."
Zurbrugg has already graduated from Wisconsin-Whitewater with a degree in Health and Human Performance, and plans to attend the University of Alabama this fall to pursue a Master's Degree in nutrition. She hopes to someday be a Dietician, but still dreams of being in a position to provide people like herself with some of the things she and they've been denied.
As a NCAA Division-III club sport athlete, she and others in a similar position aren't afforded things that varsity athletes receive, such as athletic trainers, personal trainers, nutritionists or dieticians. She hopes to one day offer herself to provide those services at schools like Wisconsin-Whitewater.
"Those are things that could really help them be successful," Zurbrugg said. "I'd love to be able to provide that for athletes at schools without those advantages."
And for her playing career? She hopes to compete in a few Paralympic games. The 2028 games will be held in Los Angeles, but as much as she looks forward to playing, she's equally passionate about spreading the word about the game that's changed her life.
"I think wheelchair basketball is a great outlet for people with disabilities, and a lot of people don't know about it," Zurbrugg said. "I think more people need to know about it because it provides an opportunity to feel athletic and be competitive, which is something that really keeps me going."
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