Skinner won’t let disability block his dream

Skinner won't let disability block his dream

Photo: Sam Robison

Flyer Sports Editor Kelly Hart, who is a member of the Fairmont Girls’ Varsity Basketball team, tries to shoot over freshman Justin Skinner, an accomplished wheelchair basketball player.

By Kelly Hart, Sports Editor

To view a Soundslide on Justin Skinner and Kelly Hart’s wheelchair basketball challenge, click  HERE.

Obstacles are an inevitable part of everyday life. However, obstacles come in all different shapes and sizes and certainly in different degrees of severity as well. Some people give up in the face of obstacles, while others persevere.

But few people are faced with the obstacles Justin Skinner, a freshman at Fairmont High School, has dealt with his whole life. Skinner was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord or its coverings fail to develop completely. That results in a protruding sac of fluid on the spine that causes motor difficulty. In Skinner’s case, he is confined to a wheelchair and occasionally able to use crutches for short distances.

But Skinner hasn’t given up; he’s found ways to rise above his disability and pursue something he loves – basketball.

Skinner said he has always loved basketball and wished he could play it, but his wheelchair made that dream seem far-fetched. That was until he heard through friends that wheelchair basketball was an up-and-coming sport.

A varsity player in the 8th grade

Skinner plays for the Turnstone Flyers out of Fort Wayne, Ind. He started for the varsity team as an eighth-grader, and his team went to the national competition last year and finished 15th out of 50 teams. “It was pretty awesome playing on the varsity team last year,” Skinner said. He’s a returning starter for the Flyers this year.

Skinner also participated in the Faculty Wheelchair Basketball game last year and gave South Unit Principal Tyler Alexander a run for his money. “I kept stealing the ball from him, and I could tell he was getting frustrated,” said Skinner. “After that, I found out he was going to be my principal next year and I was pretty scared.”

Skinner is doing everything possible to not let his disability hold him back. He’s open to trying new things, even if there’s a chance of failure. He even has tried wheelchair rugby. “It was really painful but fun,” he said.

One of Skinner’s goals is to get wheelchair basketball more recognition. He wants to get the basketball teams at Fairmont involved, too. “Playing in a wheelchair is a lot harder than regular basketball, and it would be fun to see how they do,” he said.

Taking up the challenge

As a 3-year member of the Fairmont Girls’ Varsity Basketball team, I couldn’t walk away from a challenge like that. It’s safe to say that I’m pretty comfortable with a basketball in my hands. After all, I’ve been playing nearly my whole life.

But Justin Skinner tested that comfort when he made me sit in a wheelchair with a basketball.

Justin taught me the basics of wheelchair basketball: dribbling rules, practice drills and little techniques. We shot around for a bit and I’m sure I looked like I had never touched a basketball. Justin was chasing after rebounds and picking up the ball without slowing down, as I spun in circles.

After shooting around, we attempted a game of 1-on-1. There was no getting past him. I couldn’t get more than three dribbles until I’d have to throw up a prayer that had no chance at all.

When it was Justin’s turn to have possession, he had no trouble dribbling around me and shooting in a simple lay-up. He made it look easy.

For all the amazing moves Justin made during our time together on the court, it was something he said afterward that really caught my attention. Justin was making his way across the school campus in his wheelchair while pushing another wheelchair in front of him. I offered to help, but he replied, “I don’t need any because I have to do things on my own.”

At that point, I thought of all the little obstacles Justin faces; opening doors, getting in and out of vehicles. But he doesn’t look at any of those as obstacles. His positive attitude allows him to conquer everyday difficulties.

He doesn’t know it, but Justin changed the way I look at basketball. Sometimes I dread an upcoming practice and curse my aching legs, but why should I? I should celebrate being able to play, just like Justin does when he plays.