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Coaching Heroes Through Adversity To Victory
by USMC Sgt. Justin Boling - May 25, 2013

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May 10, 2013 - Rodney Williams, an Air Force Wheel Chair Basketball coach, brings 40 years of adaptive sports experience to his team at the Warrior Games, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Williams coached the Marine Corps team to two silver medal wins. Williams was diagnosed with polio when he was 9-months-old. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin Boling)
May 10, 2013 - Rodney Williams, an Air Force Wheel Chair Basketball coach, brings 40 years of adaptive sports experience to his team at the Warrior Games, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Williams coached the Marine Corps team to two silver medal wins. Williams was diagnosed with polio when he was 9-months-old. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin Boling)

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 10, 2013) -- A silver haired man sits in his wheelchair watching behind thick brimmed black glasses and listening to the squeak of wheels against the wooden court.

Despite his mother being told if he survived he would be quadriplegic, he found and shares a love of basketball.

"I love being in a one or two point game, a real fight, it is the best feeling," said Rodney Williams, an Air Force wheelchair basketball team coach. "I don't like burying a team by twenty points or losing by twenty points."

“I like it when two teams are doing the best that they can.”

Williams, a Para Olympian turned coach and advisor of disabled veterans, currently guides his team in the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“I have been playing basketball for about forty years,” said Williams. “I was diagnosed with polio when I was nine-months-old.

“I was not able to be athletic till I got into my wheelchair,” Williams continued. “I didn't start using it for sports like basketball till I was a senior in college.

Williams brings his life and adaptive sports experience to his wheel chair basketball team at the Games.

“I think the whole plan of the program is to have people like us be mentors,” Williams said. “Someone who can show them that there are things they can do.

“I played ball, I adapted very quickly and I fell in love with it.”

Williams had coached teams in the civilian world, but in 2010 he read about the first Warrior Games.

“I decided that it was something I really wanted to get involved in,” said Williams. “The next year I got a call from the Marine Corps, and they said I had been recommended as a potential coach.”

According to him, the team's military discipline made his job easy.

“They are capable and have a great mindset that is very refreshing to me,” Williams said. “If you tell them to jump of a cliff those guys will say' which one coach.'”

“You can see their fighting spirit come out.”

Williams never served in the military, and his players give him an inside look into the cost of national defense.

“I wasn't feeling quite right after a few practices,” Williams said. “I thought I was just jet lagged, but after thinking about it I was just really depressed.”

Some of his players had suffered from improvised explosive attacks, and other combat wounds. They had lost limbs, felt pain and seen horrors no one should ever experience.

“I would listen to the player's stories, and inside I would think to myself, ‘My god how do you deal with something like that,'” Williams said. “Their stories were horrible, and as soon as one player would tell his story another would say, “that is nothing.”

“I went and talked to one of the support staff and she said ‘look at it this way, the time that you take their mind off their troubles is a good time for them.'”

Though the player's lives have changed due to their health, on the court they just play ball, with Williams to be a coach, counselor and example.

“The changes you see in these guys is amazing,” Williams said. “Guys will come in and not quite understand. We get them in the program then you see their natural athletic instincts come out.

“You see a smile on their face.”

He coached the Marine Corps team to two silver medal wins, According to Williams this year he wants his Air Force team on the podium.

“This experience has made me grow from the friendships,” added Williams. “I cannot travel anywhere without someone calling out, ‘hey coach.'”

By USMC Sgt. Justin Boling
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2013

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