World’s best wheelchair athletes coming to area
by Staff Writer
It’s an all too common tale: a promising young athlete’s career is prematurely ended after suffering a debilitating injury. But for many, the story doesn’t end there. For a remarkable few, that’s when it begins.
David Kiley was a star once, in his own right. The California native was a 19-year-old high school basketball standout with eyes on the “big league” when a skiing accident left him with a spinal cord injury that would bind him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He may have lost his ability to walk that day, but he didn’t lose his love for basketball, or for any other sport, for that matter.
In the decades since the accident, he has played in 19 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournaments (winning 9 national titles), is a six-time MVP and was chosen for the tournament’s All-Tournament Team 17 times. Later on his career, he decided to teach others the fundamentals of the game, giving private lessons to both disabled and able-bodied basketball players.
“I challenged myself to become a coach,” Kiley said, “which is difficult for a player to do.”
Today, Kiley, who has lived in Mooresville for the past 15 years, is the head coach for the U.S. women’s team for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. His team is one of a dozen coming to Huntersville Aug. 7 to 14 for the inaugural – and hopefully, annual – NWBA International Tournament of Champions. The seven men’s and five women’s teams hail from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands.
“It’s all the basketball powerhouses in the world,” Kiley said. “It should be a wonderful event for the community to get behind.”
And that’s exactly what the community did. The tournament is the brainchild of Dick Bryant, president of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, who said “It was an idea of mine for getting the best teams to the USA so we could showcase these elite athletes and their abilities.”
The original plan was for the tournament to be held in Charlotte, but when securing all the necessary facilities proved difficult, they decided to move it just north of the city.
“I was welcomed by Visit Lake Norman and the towns of Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson with open arms when I couldn’t get the gym locations I needed from the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system,” Bryant said.
Bryant, a Charlotte native, lost both of his legs above the knees at 10 years old when he slipped and fell beneath a train in the west Charlotte area. Yet, today he stands as one of the most accomplished athletes in history.
He’s set three world records in swimming at the 1979 World Amputee Championships in England, won six Paralympic medals in track and field and the pentathlon, and has been inducted in the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame and the North Carolina chapter of the Wrestling Hall of Fame. He’s coached two wheelchair basketball national championship teams and played in another three.
Of all the sports he’s competed in, he says “I love the game of wheelchair basketball most of all.”
Want to know more?
World War II veterans founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association as an athletic outlet for many of the veterans returning home with disabilities. Since its inception in 1948, it has grown to encompass more than 200 men’s, women’s, intercollegiate and youth basketball teams across the U.S. and Canada.
For more information on the upcoming tournament, visit www.nwba.org.