Wheeling toward the future
(Published Nov. 16, 2006, 5:00 p.m.)
By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
One year ago today, Ashley Kubicz, 18, of Whitewater, was lying in
a hospital bed. She had lost her left leg above the knee and badly damaged
her right ankle in an auto crash.
Her car was forced off the road, up a hill and into a telephone pole
by a car driven by a man who was later convicted of operating an automobile
The future looked unclear and frightening. Would she be herself again?
Would she find happiness with all of these new obstacles she now faces?
Will she even graduate high school?
A year later, all of those answers are yes-and more.
"It was Nov. 6 last year," Kubicz said, identifying the date of the
crash. "I had seven surgeries within a week.
"If you were to look at my car you would think, 'How did I make it?'
The police said it was the worst accident in Walworth County without
a fatality that they had ever seen."
Last spring she graduated from Whitewater High School with her class
and "with honors, thank you," she added.
She's now working at the Delavan Wal-Mart and attending UW-Whitewater
with a goal of becoming a prosthetist, one who makes prosthetic limbs.
And to top it off, she's an up-and-coming member of the Wheelin' Wizards,
a National Wheelchair Basketball Association team based in Waukesha;
and RIC Express, an all-women wheelchair basketball team for ages 14
to 62 of Addison, Ill.
There's only one thing holding her back right now. Currently she is
using a basketball wheelchair loaned to her by the UW-Whitewater Wheelchair
Basketball team. But she'll need to buy her own if she wants to keep
playing-and she really wants to keep playing.
"Wheelchair basketball has opened up so many more opportunities for
me," she said. "I would have never thought of playing basketball again."
She played some basketball in high school, but lost interest.
"Sometimes people in able-bodied organized sports-teammates and coaches-aren't
always supportive. And sometimes they just get mad.
"But everybody in wheelchair basketball has their own disability. We
all know what we're going through and we stick together-we're all equal.
They help you out so much."
One of the most encouraging people she's met is one of her Wizards
coaches, Opie, aka Jeremy Lade, 25, of Janesville.
"Opie is that way," she said. "He encourages me; it's so awesome to
hear him saying I'm doing something right or explain what I'm doing
wrong or right."
"Our team atmosphere is a family atmosphere," Lade said. "We're always
looking out for each other. We want everybody to succeed and have a
Before coaching, Lade himself was a member of the Wheelin' Wizards
and the UW-Whitewater Wheelchair Basketball team. At the age of 9 he
lost use of his legs after a car crash.
"As a basketball player, Ashley is one of those players every coach
wants on their team," he said. "She has a great attitude, she works
hard and learns fast-she's extremely coachable."
He began coaching because he wanted to guide younger wheelchair basketball
players the way his coaches guided him, and to give back to the sport,
"Wheelchair basketball gives the players a sense of accomplishment-they're
still able to do stuff they did before they were disabled," he said.
Basketball wheelchairs have several modifications from everyday wheelchairs.
The wheels are cambered, or tilted, to allow more maneuverable.
"This allows you to turn quicker and gives a more stable base," Lade
said. "There's a wheel behind you that prevents you from tipping over
and increases your arm's range of motion and there's a seat belt.
Through the sport, Kubicz has been all over the country competing.
"It's really fun," she said. "It's something new. And I don't feel
embarrassed to have an amputation when I'm around my teammates because
everyone has some kind of disability. It's new a new way of learning."
Although she's in a wheelchair full-time right now, she doesn't plan
on being there forever. But learning how to use a prosthetic leg when
the knee couldn't be saved is a major undertaking and takes time.
"I'll be out of this wheelchair, but I will keep on playing wheelchair
basketball because I love it so much."
Kubicz needs $2,500 to buy her own basketball wheelchair. While she
would never ask for help herself, The Week decided to ask for her. Any
donations would be greatly appreciated and can be sent to Kubicz at
N7696 Bradley Court, Whitewater, WI 53190.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) is comprised
of 181 basketball teams within 22 conferences. The NWBA emerged from
returning World War II amputee veterans in 1948, and today consists
of men's, women's, intercollegiate and youth teams throughout the United
States and Canada. Their next milestone is being accepted into the regular