Wheelchair basketball player gives back on her way to London Paralympics

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:36 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Sarah Castle, who is headed to the 2012 London Paralympic games, recently practiced with the MU Wheelchair Basketball team.

COLUMBIA — Sarah Castle, a small woman with chipped hot-pink nail polish, sat on the sidelines at a preseason scrimmage. She watched carefully. Sometimes she focused on the action; then she looked at freshman MU Wheelchair Basketball player James McCormick, who was waiting to enter the competition.

Castle knows a lot about wheelchair basketball. She won a gold medal from the 2008 Paralympic Games in Bejing as a member of the United States women's wheelchair basketball team, which is set to defend its title at this year's Paralympics, which begin Wednesday in London.

Castle, a 28-year-old from Kansas City, was in Columbia to train with the MU men's team. The scrimmage, earlier this month at the MU Student Recreation Complex, was a chance for her to work with coach Ron Lykins, who leads the MU program. Twice a week, she made the trip to Columbia to train while finishing up work on her law degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.    

At the scrimmage, McCormick told Castle he was nervous about how well he plays. Castle, who regularly plays in the team's scrimmages, told McCormick not to worry.

"You know how people picked kids on the playground to be on their team because they were good?" Castle asked. "Not me. I picked them because they were funny."

It's a reminder that the goal is to have fun.

As the pair wheeled onto the court to enter the game, Castle broke out a few quick dance moves with her arms. Dancing like this is a training technique for Castle, who said she believes that if you aren't having a good time, you won't win.

Castle, who is eligible for the Paralympics because of impairment to her legs caused by acute transverse myelitis, is a four-time Paralympian. She swam in her first two Paralympics, winning a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Games.

She is the team captain for this year's USA Women's Wheelchair Basketball team, but plans to make this year's Paralympics her last. Naturally, her focus has turned to the future of the sport. The majority of this year's national team has never competed on the Paralympic stage.  

"My job is to get through this event and then retire, but I've got girls whose job it is to carry the U.S. for the next 10 years," Castle said. "This is their teaching ground. This is where I teach them what it's going to take for them to carry it for 10 years. So that's where my pressure comes in.

"And so, I feel like my job is to make it fun. That's my biggest job."

She has also made working with the MU men's team an unofficial job. Lykins, her coach on the 2008 gold medal team, said Castle comes and helps at annual four-day youth camps where the MU team recruits players.

"I feel real fortunate to have worked with her … with our team here, working with her at camp, just working with our program in general," Lykins said. "Mizzou has really benefited by having her nearby.  She's made a lot of contributions to our program. We're better because of it."

Castle, who is waiting for the results of her state bar exam, hopes to become an advocate for people with disabilities. She is already a practiced speaker on awareness of people with disabilities and touts the opportunities for people with disabilities in athletics.

"My biggest win is the fact that I can look in the mirror right now and say that I am the best version of myself that I have ever been," Castle said. "And I have become that from every struggle that I've ever experienced and every challenge I've ever had thrown in my face, but also from the fact that I can say I challenge myself and I will rise to the occasion."

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.


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