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Regular Teen, Paralympic Hopeful
Story by Matt Lively
Photo by RSVP Photography
Stephen Hernandez has never shied away from sports.
Not in second grade, when he forcefully punted a kickball with his prosthetic leg and sent it flying. Not when he saw a flier for three-on-three amputee basketball at the doctors’ office. And not now, with two colleges recruiting him for their wheelchair basketball programs.
At 17, Hernandez is living the high school athlete’s dream: excelling at sports and given an opportunity to play at the collegiate level.
“My plan is to go [to college] and get my degree in something related in sports,” Hernandez said. “After that, I want to go to the Paralympics in 2020.”
Hernandez was born with a condition his parents are still trying to learn about 17 years later. He had both legs amputated at age two.
“[The doctors] described it as him walking on basketballs with fins,” his mother, Gina Hernandez, said.
More than a decade later, after a slew of clinical studies, appointments with specialists and numerous unsure diagnoses, the Hernandez family isn’t quite sure what to call Stephen Hernandez’s condition. Of all the words thrown around—cancer, genes, overgrowth—the last one stands out the most. One leg is thicker, one arm is longer, and one finger is bigger.
“It’s the bad finger,” his mother said, indicating the middle finger.
For the most part, his classmates and peers have been supportive of him. However, it wasn’t always easy during school.
“When I was in middle school, I was the only kid in school with a disability,” he said. “No one took it easy on me and kids were harsh. Sometimes they’d jack my leg when I’d switch shoes. It was pretty hard growing up in middle school.”
His support system has been his family, and he credits his parents for telling him not to give up.
“There is work on my part to make sure I push him and keep him on the right track,” Daniel Hernandez, Stephen’s father, said. “I remind him that all the professional athletes you see, it’s their job and they’re working everyday.”
Hernandez plays and trains at Ability360. He is a varsity member of the wheelchair basketball program and is a key member of the team. Rob Reed, head coach of the wheelchair youth team, knows Hernandez has talent.
“I think the sky is the limit for him,” Reed said. “Stephen’s been playing three years now. He’s a great leader. He can create opportunities for himself if he keeps working as hard as he has been.”
Hernandez admits that he didn’t start watching Paralympic sports until he started coming to Ability360, but that won’t slow down his dream of actually participating in one. For him, basketball is his future.
“I’ve practiced with the team [UofA] once and played against the team a couple times,” he said. “They’re a really good team. I can’t wait to hopefully play for them.”
Writer / Videographer
Matt Lively is a Senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Originally from South Florida, he has lived in the Valley for three years. His first love is sports and aspires to be a sports broadcaster and story teller in the future.
Read more by Matt Lively.