UW-Whitewater alumni, coach, prepare for Tokyo Paralympic Games
Five former UW-Whitewater players and a current coach are heading to Tokyo
WHITEWATER, Wis. (WMTV) - Twelve elite athletes will be heading to Tokyo to represent team USA in men’s wheelchair basketball in the Paralympic Games. Of those 12 athletes, five are graduates of UW-Whitewater.
John Boie, Jake Williams, Matt Lesperance, Matt Scott and Nate Hinze are all former Warhawks who are preparing to head to Japan. These athletes are not alone; Christina Schwab, current assistant director for Wheelchair Athletics and the head coach of women’s wheelchair basketball at UW-Whitewater will be going with them as an assistant coach for Team USA.
Matt Lesperance currently lives in Sun Prairie, and has experience competing on an international stage. In 2008, he competed in the Paralympic Games in Beijing. Now, he’s gearing up for Tokyo.
“I was very young when I got selected to that team, I was 21 years old,” he said. “For that to be my first games, it was just kind of like going with the flow, everything was going really fast. This time, I know what to expect and I know what I’m getting into, so I have that experience coming into these games.”
Lesperance has been playing wheelchair basketball for about 25 years. He had to wait an extra year to compete in this year’s Paralympics after the games were postponed due to coronavirus.
“When March hit, we were getting to our peak when we were really starting to make that final cut,” he said of the process of putting together the team. “Once COVID hit, everything was on hold. It was a depressing time really when we didn’t know if the games were going to happen.”
Now, about a month away from the competition, that extra year may have served as a positive.
“That just gave us an extra year to prepare, an extra year to get better, an extra year to communicate with our teammates to know exactly what we want to do and go accomplish that goal, and that’s getting a gold medal.”
Christina Schwab is no stranger to gold medals. In the Paralympics, Schwab competed in five games in two different sports (both wheelchair basketball and track and field), and is a three time gold medalist. This will be her sixth Paralympic Games, but her first serving as a coach.
“It’s a really good way for me to give back to the sport,” she said. “Like I’ve talked about before, it’s guided my choices in life. I hope to provide even a little bit to other athletes what the sport has given me. If I can be that small step in someone’s journey through wheelchair basketball, that means the world to me.”
Navigating the pandemic was hard on everyone, but Schwab said she really saw the impact on her athletes, especially those she coaches on the women’s wheelchair basketball team at UW-Whitewater.
“Just trying to get them through something that was unprecedented, that we never knew could happen in our lifetime, all the stress and the unknowns that come with that, that was hard.”
With the games quickly approaching, Schwab said there are still unknowns as athletes and teams grapple with competing in the backdrop of coronavirus.
“We know what is expected of us and we know what we need to get done and that we need to keep ourselves safe when we’re not together and take precautions and everything,” she said. “It’s definitely difficult and we’re such a big country and everybody after training camp goes their separate ways. It’s a worry I think, I think that we all sit and worry. There’s athletes now that are testing positive for it that are vaccinated. There’s going to be these unknows that pop up, it’s going to be how do we deal with that if something comes along.”
Lesperance said the team is following the guidance of professionals to make sure they’re taking necessary safety precautions to stay safe.
“I felt like we’ve done our part by going out and getting the vaccination, that’s the best that we can do at this point,” Lesperance said. “You can’t really worry about everything else, that’s kind of out of our control.”
For now, the focus is on the court, as Schwab and Lesperance use these final weeks to prepare.
“I think the U.S. has always had a great squad to be able to compete at the Paralympics,” Schwab said. “It’s the best of the best of the United States. To have everybody come together and picking the best 12 out of the nation to go compete in the Paralympics is going to be a great event.”
Not only is Schwab excited to represent Team USA once again, but to share UW-Whitewater’s reputation for wheelchair basketball.
“We’re really proud of that legacy that we have that we provide not only a really good education at UW-Whitewater, but we also provide a really good wheelchair basketball education that has taken people to the level they want to play at.”
As for taking home a gold medal this year? Lesperance is feeling confident.
“If Bucks can do it in six I mean I think we could do it too,” he said.
For more information on the men’s wheelchair basketball team, click here.
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