Alumna & current student share Paralympic dreams

In the spring of 2012, Renee Tyree, PharmD 1993, was browsing the UA College of Pharmacy newsletter when her eyes landed on a photo of a young woman sitting in a wheelchair – and throwing a basketball. Tyree describes her reaction:

“’Oh, my god!’ I said. ‘She’s in a wheelchair! She’s a PharmD student! And she’s a basketball Paralympian! I was a basketball Paralympian while I was a PharmD student at the UA! What an amazing coincidence! I’ve got to meet her!’”

The young woman Tyree was reading about was Jennifer Poist, a second-year UA PharmD student who is one of only 12 people from the United States selected for the U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team that will compete in the Paralympics in London in August 2012.

Tyree knows only too well Poist’s excitement at being chosen to represent the U.S. in the Paralympic games. In 1992, she went with the U.S. team to the Paralympics in Barcelona, where they won a silver medal. In 1996, they went to Atlanta, where they took the bronze medal. In 2004, in Athens, they won gold.

Poist leaves for the London Paralympics Aug. 23. On Aug. 13, the team in the COP Medication Management Center, where Poist works, presented her with a “good luck” card. The MMC staff made the card themselves, posing in different colored shirts to make the famous Olympic/Paralympic rings. (See the card on our Facebook page.)

Both Tyree and Poist came to UA in large part because of its accessibility for people in wheelchairs, and describe UA as one of the best campuses for people with physical limitations. It is also highly unusual for one professional college to attract two such dedicated athletes. In the UA Disability Resource Center, there is a larger-than-life-size poster of Tyree – in her wheelchair, with one of her Paralympic medals.

Since graduating from COP, Tyree has worked continuously as a pharmacist. Three years ago, she got the opportunity to become the director of pharmacy at a brand new hospital, HealthSouth East Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Phoenix.

“I tell my students, for me this is a ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ job; I was so, so fortunate to find this opportunity. I got to help design how the pharmacy does things from the ground up. It is a small hospital, only 60 beds, and the average patient stay is two weeks, so we get to know the patients and their families. It is a very open environment, interactive with the nurses and physicians.

“I do all types of pharmacy: drug dispensing, warfarin management, many things. The hospital by design is very open. We get to see patients progress, we get them home. For me, a person with a disability who spent time in rehab, I can relate to the patients. I can empathize with them and be a role model.”

Tyree is also a role model to pharmacy students: She is a preceptor for both Midwestern University College of Pharmacy and the UA College of Pharmacy. She takes two students at a time now, but will increase to four students soon.

Tyree fulfilled her goal of meeting Poist in July 2012. The two met for lunch in Tucson and exchanged stories about their sport, their profession, international competition and UA. One of the things they learned during their time together is that they also share the same jersey number on their respective Paralympic teams: 13.

“Meeting Renee was a great experience,” says Poist. “It was nice to talk to someone who has been to three Paralympic games and hear about her experiences in the sport. Renee seems like a really wonderful person and has done well for herself in basketball and pharmacy.”

The two may reunite in September, shortly after Poist’s return from the Paralympics, at a “welcome back” picnic for students. But there is no “maybe” that Renee Tyree is now one of Jennifer Poist’s biggest fans.

Other media have been talking about Poist and Tyree too. Tucson TV stations have interviewed Poist and the Arizona Daily Star ran this story in sports Aug. 20.

Update-Sept. 7: The USA women's wheelchair basketball team finished fourth in the Paralympics competition, losing the bronze medal match to a powerful team from The Netherlands.


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