Ryan Baker wasn’t going to let a little thing like being in a wheelchair stop him from being an athlete. After a car accident in 1991 left him a T6 paraplegic, Ryan tried a number of parasports to stay fit such as tennis, skiing and competitive racing. But it was lacrosse, a sport Ryan was introduced to by a friend, that would carry him through. During a ski trip in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in 2009, Ryan introduced the idea of bringing the sport to the disabled to his friend and fellow paraplegic, Bill Lundstom. After working out exactly how they would change a game that had no parasport equivalent to one that you could play in a wheelchair, Wheelchair Lacrosse USA was born. Today, WLUSA boasts over a dozen programs across the country.
We met up with Ryan to discuss getting the word out about the WLUSA, the benefits of help in high places, and his dream of becoming a referee in the Paralympic Games.
On finding the stick: “I may have lost the use of my legs, but my arms still worked fine. I knew I wanted to play a sport, and after learning about lacrosse I was hooked. I love the fast paced action and impact that lacrosse provides, as well as the teamwork, passing and movement.”
On re-inventing the sport for disabled athletes: “I started Wheelchair Lacrosse USA in 2009 with Bill Lundstrom after proposing the idea on a ski trip. It has been a challenging and fun journey getting WLUSA off the ground. Since there was no lacrosse for wheelchair athletes, we had to create a rule book, guidelines and various protocols to help us legitimize the sport. It has also been important to us to maintain its authenticity and respect its history.”
On his version of camping: “Our WLUSA camps are crafted to bring lacrosse to disabled athletes all over the country. We provide all the gear and help nascent organizations find a good facility for a weekend clinic. We review the rules, do drills and provide an overview of the game and how it’s played. At the conclusion of the weekend WLUSA donates lacrosse equipment to the new program, so athletes will have what they need to continue playing and practicing. Using this model, we now have over 16 programs nationwide since 2010.”
On a little help from some big friends: “There are so many people that believe in what we are doing, and have been helping us get WLUSA off the ground. Recently, Nike became are our official equipment sponsor after learing a bit more about our goals and our mission. It feels great to have Nike in our corner when it comes to helping grow this great game.”
On what’s next: “This summer WLUSA will be putting on a tournament in Ocean City, Maryland. The tournament is the OC Lacrosse Classic. The organizers have created the Rolling Surf Division at the event and will host 6 different wheelchair lacrosse teams from all over the country to come compete at our most highly attended event to date.”
On “the ultimate”: “The ultimate goal would be to bring wheelchair lacrosse to the Paralympic Games. It won’t be easy, though. Before that happens we will need to help facilitate World Championships with at least eight countries. I do believe that one day it will be considered, but I will be much too old to play. Maybe I can blow a whistle!”
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