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 while intoxicated.

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 good time."

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, he said.

"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.

NWBA.org

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 Olympic games.

*Source: www.nwba.org

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