Story: Hans Smith
Photo: David Creighton

With the meticulousness of a shoe shiner inspecting his work after a job well done, the directness of a General commanding his troops when there is no margin for error, and the friendliness of a neighbor who brings cookies to welcome someone to the neighborhood, Coach Tony Jackson masterfully communicates his strategy for success to his young team members, all likely under the age of 16, who are gathered together at the center of the full-size indoor basketball court. The huddle suddenly breaks. The time for discussion is over; it’s time for the soccer game to begin. Though only a summer clinic where the game is a scrimmage, this makeshift group, divided into two teams, is taking their objective seriously; each player is seeking a win.

“Mom, I scored a goal!”The ball is in bounded from the sidelines. Parents and friends of the players watch eagerly from the blue metal bleachers as the action unfolds. Josh, age 9, now has the ball, and is darting toward the opposing goal as he evades multiple defenders. Almost as if enacting a scene from a movie, Josh successfully gets the ball past the goalie and in between the goalposts. Smiling with a grin that would rival the Cheshire Cat, he looks toward the bleachers and says, “Mom, I scored a goal!”

Though this accomplishment would be thrilling for any athlete, the significance is magnified greatly for Josh. You see, at an early age he was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease that has even left many doctors perplexed as they have struggled to determine its exact identity. On a daily basis, Josh uses a bright red power wheelchair to get around, and relies on an oxygen tank to facilitate his breathing. Nevertheless, make no mistake, he is no hospital patient, Josh is a soccer player!

This is not Josh’s first encounter with the world of sports. In fact, he is quite a baseball enthusiast. Both he and his mother, Melanie, reflect on how, for countless nights, Josh watched from the back porch of their home as young little leaguers, not far from Josh’s age, played baseball on a diamond which bordered their backyard. Many nights when the frustration was too great, Josh would exclaim, “I just want to play baseball like the other kids.” For those on the diamond, their baseball career was in its infancy; their future was uncertain. For Josh, his future seemed certain; he would experience life without the opportunity to play sports, except through the occasional console, or iPad videogame. Of course, that was before his mother and he discovered the miracle of Power Soccer, and attended their first summer clinic at the Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities, (Spofit), in Phoenix, Arizona on June 8. Yes, it’s true. Josh wasn’t the only player in a wheelchair on the court that day. In reality, every one of the players was in a wheelchair.  Yet, miraculously, it seemed as if, for a brief moment, no one was.

That seems to be the true “power” behind Power Soccer. Instead of just referring to the mode of transportation players use to navigate the court, a power wheelchair, the word “power” also seems to indicate the ability of the sport to give the players the power to overcome their handicaps, and to become something so many people, maybe even themselves, would have never imagined, an athlete.

Cassandra Byrd, mother of Kyle and Lauren Byrd, two five-year-old twins with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who also participated in the soccer clinic, commented on just how much being able to play competitively on the court really meant to her children, especially Kyle. “He’s very competitive by nature, and he [normally] doesn’t have a chance to really try to… be competitive in real life, so I saw the determination in his face that he was going to figure this game out, and elbow his way into the ball if he needed to…. I see that happening a lot in the next clinic that he comes to.”

Spofit will be holding its 3rd and final Max in Motion Adaptive Sports Clinic on July 13th. Registration can be started on the web site and  families should arrive at 9am.   Wheelchair basketball will also be featured at the clinic. The Phoenix Suns Gorilla will be visiting around 10:30.  SpoFit is open and free to all family members of the clinic attendees that day.

Hans Smith holds a journalism degree from Boise State University.  Hans recently moved to Tempe, Arizona.  He is an avid Power Soccer player and a member at SpoFit.