She's got game! Pharmacy student headed to Paralympics

Got game?

Second-year pharmacy student Jenn Poist certainly has. For the past five years she has played on the University of Arizona woman’s wheelchair basketball team. 

But does she really have game? Yes! After the conclusion of the Lady Cats regular season, she will join the U.S. national team in the 2012 Paralympics in London, England, in August.

The UA woman’s wheelchair basketball team is a part of The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA), which is comprised of more than 200 basketball teams across 22 conferences and seven divisions. The UA disabled athletics program is the largest in the country.

The national team is made up of the nation’s elite players. Only 18 athletes were invited to try out for the team. The coaches selected Poist along with 11 others to represent the United States.

How did Poist become involved in wheelchair basketball?
“I started playing wheelchair basketball nine years ago when I was a freshman in high school. After high school, I was recruited to come out here and play.”

Why did she choose UA?
“The University of Arizona was the only school that had woman’s wheelchair basketball and a College of Pharmacy. Also, I wanted to get away from the cold weather.”

Poist is originally from McSherrystown, Pennsylvania. She became wheelchair bound at the age of 7 due to a tumor on her spine. It was in McSherrystown where she first became interested in pharmacy. While in high school she also had an after-school job in a nearby pharmacy.

“I always wanted to do something in the health profession,” Poist says. “I enjoyed the work I did in the pharmacy and so decided this was what I wanted to do. I also liked the fact that pharmacists get to interact with their patients on a regular basis.”

How does she balance the demands of COP and athletics?
“I’m only taking a couple of classes now. Because of the amount of training I need to do, I’m going to take off two semesters.

"After the Paralympics are over, I’ll return full-time to the COP.  Right now I train four to five hours for five to six days a week. Once I join the national team, we will attend training camps and play in tournaments across the country.

"In May the team will be going to Frankfurt, Germany to play and then to Manchester, England.  Of course in August we will go to London for the Paralympics.”

What about physical balance?
In order to compensate for the extent of each player's disability, “we all have chairs that are designed specifically for us to optimize what trunk function we have,” explains Poist.

“It takes a lot of coordination to be able to dribble the ball, pass, and shoot all while having to move your chair. Our chairs are an extension of our body so that when we move the chair moves with us.”

As this writer learned firsthand, this is easier said than done. Even with the experience of division I college athletics, all I could do was avoid tipping the chair over or running into the wall. The fluidity of motion and precise control displayed on the court by Poist and her teammates are amazing. It is hard to imagine their incredible chair skills until you’ve seen for yourself the wheelchair equivalent of the “shake and bake,” “drop step” and “crossover.” 

What does Poist see for herself in the future?
“I want to continue playing basketball, but when I return from England I will focus more on my career. I have an interest in geriatrics and would like to see if I can pursue that or work in a hospital.”

The Paralympics have been held every four years since the first in Rome in 1960. Twice they were held in the United States:  New York in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996. For more information, see Paralympic.org.

Story and action photos by Larry Hogan Jr.

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