Overcoming Early Paralysis Through Wheelchair Basketball

Overcoming early paralysis through wheelchair basketball, 12-year-old Drew Beutel is hardly confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with transverse myelitis as an infant.

The Diagnosis

Drew: When I was about one and a half years old I was paralyzed with transverse Myelitis. And I ‘ve been in a wheelchair or a walker ever since.

Drew Beutel might have to strap in to his wheelchair, but he’s hardly tied down these days. An astonishing notion ten and a half years after the initial diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis

John: At that point, he was paralyzed. Transverse Myelitis is extremely rare and nobody really knows what the outcome is going to be.

It was a scary time for John Beutel and his family. Recovery from the condition ranges from complete paralysis to full recuperation. Drew was 16 moths old. He’s now 12 and hardly ever uses a wheelchair… except to play basketball.

Finding Basketball 

Drew: I would go to a Shriners hospital in Chicago and they taught me how to play wheelchair basketball and I’ve loved it and I found this Synergy program.

John: We found this wheelchair Bulls activity here, that’s being sponsored by Synergy. So we figured we would bring Drew when he was five years old and he’s been hooked ever since.

Drew may be only 12, but his advanced skill set is allowing him to play up with the 13 and over league – which is run by Synergy in conjunction with the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association.

Drew: My main team will be varsity – so if there’s an overlap in games, I’m going to be with that team but if I have a chance, I’m going to be playing for prep, the smaller team, too.

Phil: Drew is awesome, he’s been on the prep team for a few years now and this is his first year playing varsity. He’s been pretty dominant on the youth level, very athletic, very tall for his age. Very good with his hands, you’ll see him make a lot of plays with dribble and he loves going behind the back.

Phil Eide is a program specialist at Synergy, who also coaches the junior Bulls wheelchair basketball teams. He also travels to schools for wheelchair basketball demonstrations, once showing up at Drew’s school – where he shined.

Phil: We went to Drew’s school and he was able to play basketball in the wheelchair, with everyone else in the wheelchair and he really shined and just his smile always lights up the room and you could see he was helping his teammates but also showing how good he really is.

A point guard, Drew’s command of the game and of the court is impressive by all accounts, especially considering his age and how far he has come.

John: It’s amazing in the past 8 years how far he has come to become a leader on the little kids team and now, not being of age to be on the 10 foot team but still playing up and playing with the big kids.

Sibling Rivalry 

With an older brother to compete with, much like everyday life, Drew doesn’t confine himself to his wheelchair.

Drew: Normally he always beats me in stand-up basketball and we’re just always joking around but then it’s the same thing when it’s vice versa when it’s wheelchair basketball.

Whether Drew is standing up or sitting down, teaching the prep team some new skills – or learning a few himself on the varsity team, there’s one constant.

John: Drew always has a smile – he’s all smiles, he’s totally in his element.

And through the sport of wheelchair basketball, Drew has made those around him smile too.

He’s also won a fair bit too.

Drew: I love winning games and stuff. One time we won our Chicago tournament and that was really exciting for me.

John: Drew ended up getting the ball and ended up making the shot with the Michael Jordan hang of the wrist as the buzzer went out to win the game. It’s a vision I’ll never forget.

Drew and his teammates are gearing up for a home tournament this coming weekend. And if the past is any indication, there will be a lot of smiling… and a lot of winning.  

Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman

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