Terrence Green’s life changed forever on Jan. 16, 2003.
He was driving to his job as a Homeland Security agent when a semi truck pulled out and hit him, breaking four of the vertebrae in his spine and causing his spinal cord to swell.
He would have to use a wheelchair for the next 2 1/2 years, eventually regaining limited use of his legs through intensive physical therapy and medical treatments. Today, he proudly can take steps on his own while using a walker – but when it comes time to play, you’ll find him just as proudly back in the wheelchair.
Green, a 56-year-old resident of Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, is a founding member of a new wheelchair lacrosse team that began practicing over the winter with help from Marquette.
“Marquette has a lot of great students,” Green says. “Not good students — great students. They’re just so beautiful to come out and help us. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
Taking time away from what has been a busy – and successful – season of their own, Marquette men’s lacrosse head coach Joe Amplo and several of his players are serving as volunteer coaches for the team, a mix of wounded veterans, accident victims and a few able-bodied friends who wanted to play, too. Students from the College of Health Sciences have come out to help during the team’s practices, which are held at the old Marquette Gym.
For Amplo, it’s a chance to give his players a sense of perspective away from the success they’ve had on the field. Marquette started the season with seven straight wins and has been ranked as high as No. 9 in the polls – not bad, considering that the program is only in its third season of existence.
Winning is great.
Winning while staying grounded is better.
“Absolutely,” Amplo says. “That is the main reason why we do it, to have our guys have a sense of gratitude for what they’ve been given in their life – and to understand, when they say things are challenging, it isn’t challenging. Challenging is these guys (wheelchair athletes) finding satisfaction, enjoying the world. And if we can provide at least a small vehicle for that, then I think it’s great for our kids.”
Sophomore defender Ryan Geller agrees: “These guys help us keep our heads straight.”
At a recent practice, Geller and his teammates spent time teaching and even took turns playing in wheelchairs themselves. Turns out, it’s much harder to play lacrosse on two wheels instead of two legs.
“I don’t know how these guys do it, but I am impressed,” Geller says.
Marquette’s help has been a boost to the work of Dr. Kenneth Lee, a spinal cord injury rehabilitation physician at the Zablocki VA Hospital who uses adaptive sports as motivation for his patients.
“It’s a life-altering situation that they’re in,” Lee says. “And many of them pretty much go into depression and won’t do anything. We use sports as a way to get them back on their feet, so to say.”
Wheelchair basketball already is fairly popular, and wheelchair rugby gained notoriety through the 2005 documentary “Murderball.” Wheelchair lacrosse is still new – there are perhaps only five or six teams in the U.S. – but Lee and his players hope the sport will grow.
They plan to put on an exhibition match at an adaptive sports festival at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wis. on July 25. Then they hope to compete in the wheelchair division of the Ocean City Lacrosse Classic in Maryland this August.
Lee thanks Amplo and Marquette for helping them get there.
“What he said was, all his athletes winning in tournaments and doing things is nothing compared to when they come and volunteer and do this,” Lee says. “Because they’re learning a life lesson.”
Feature written by Chris Jenkins
Photos courtesy Marquette Athletics