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Wheelchair Basketball Gives PT Students Insight

Participants Learn, Raise Money for Charity

UMass Lowell Image
Physical Therapy students,  from left, Cristian Jimenez, Michelle Couture, Molly Zuccaro and Shawn Grace, compete against the New England Blazers.

By Karen Angelo

First-hand experience is the best way to understand the lives of others, especially if one day you’re expected to help people work with, and overcome, personal challenges. 

Physical therapy and exercise physiology students recently competed in a basketball game against the New England Blazers, a local professional wheelchair basketball team. 

While the event is fun for everyone involved, it also helps students understand the competitive abilities and struggles of people using wheelchairs in their daily lives. 

“It’s important to raise awareness that the world of medicine and rehabilitation is changing,” says Jessica Hopkins, a second-year physical therapy student and organizer of the game held in the Costello Gym. “Just because someone may be in a wheelchair or has a prosthetic does not mean he or she can’t continue being a competitor and participant in recreational activities.” 

Since the early 1990s, the New England Blazers, an affiliate of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, have donated their time and provided specialized wheelchairs for the game so that the students can experience the challenges of playing basketball under their circumstances. And every year, the result is the same: PT students lose to the pro team. 

“The athletes we play against come in smiling and ready to have a good time and end up really embarrassing us,” says Hopkins. 

Physical Therapy Lecturer JoAnn Moriarty-Baron says the competition is much more than a game. 

“Future patients include young individuals who use wheelchairs, many of whom may want to return to an active lifestyle that includes sports like marathon running, tennis, boating, skiing and basketball,” says Moriarty-Baron. “This game allows our students to experience the physical and physiological demands that wheelchair mobility places on the body, giving them insight into treatment options.” 

This year the students raised more than $1,600 for the Physical Therapy Club, which will make donations to the New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Organization for Rare Diseases. 

“It was truly amazing to get a chance to help run this event,” says Hopkins, “I strongly believe that this game is vitally important to students and our community. It’s for an amazing cause and really shows everyone how these individuals labeled ‘disabled’ are true athletes and competitors.”