Five student-athletes on The University of Alabama Adapted Athletics wheelchair basketball team represented the U.S. in the women’s under 25 International Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Thailand in October where Team USA took the World Champion title.
Abby Bauleke of Savage, Minnesota, Erin Buckles of Stafford, Virginia, Ixhelt Gonzalez of Chicago, Bailey Moody of Johns Creek, Georgia, and Moira Paulus of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, joined Team USA in competition against teams from South Africa, Canada, Australia, China, Japan, Thailand, Germany, Spain and Great Britain.
While Bauleke, Gonzalez and Moody are seasoned veterans when it comes to tournament play around the world, this was the first time competing internationally for Buckles and Paulus.
“Thailand was such a great opportunity that allowed me to learn so much more about the game of basketball. This team was fun to be a part of. All the ladies were so talented, and the team was great on and off the court,” said Paulus.
“I was able to learn a lot from both the coaches and my teammates. Learning to work with a team that you have never played with was a fun challenge because you had to adapt to each player in a different way.”
For Buckles it was a lifelong dream come true.
“Because my dream to play at the national team level has been a long-standing one, I’ve been watching and studying film on it for years in order to best understand what it was I needed to work towards,” she said.
“Even still, none of that could’ve prepared me for the reality. It’s a beautifully humbling experience to be able to not only witness the best that the world has to offer, but to challenge it as well, which filled me with emotions I had not expected to feel.
“All the sacrifices, all the mishaps, all the hard work and love that had been built up along the journey were worth it, and my lifelong dream of tasting gold with the American flag wrapped around my shoulders had wondrously, beautifully come true.”
Team USA won each of its games and eventually faced off against Great Britain in the gold medal matchup winning 72-49.
The U25 team was coached by Ryan Hynes, UA’s women’s wheelchair basketball coach. Alex Curry, UA’s Adapted Athletics director of sports medicine, served Team USA as a medical representative.
“This experience was one of a lifetime and ended with us bringing back the gold. We faced quite a lot of adversity in the beginning with problems with the original venue but were able to stay strong as a team and compete at an extremely high level,” said Curry.
“It was incredible to watch the athletes come together as one team while most of them traditionally play against each other during the collegiate season. I look forward to seeing what these great athletes will achieve in their future international careers as well.”