Darlene Hunter on her women's wheelchair development camp and playing with the Dallas Wings
Imagine being a 12-year-old aspiring basketball player with posters of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage lining your bedroom walls. You dream of hitting the hardwood with your favorite pro ballers. Then it happens.
Paralympic gold medalist Darlene Hunter runs the Lady Mavericks wheelchair basketball team and hosts an annual women's wheelchair development camp out of the University of Texas-Arlington. After being named a Toyota Everyday Hero at the 2017 espnW: Women + Sports Summit, which is accompanied by a $10,000 grant, Hunter expanded the reach of the camp. Her goal was to give more adaptive women and girls, typically between the ages of 12 and 26, the opportunity to improve upon their games and learn valuable life skills, all free of charge.
espnW debriefed with Hunter after her camp wrapped in late July to discuss how being an Everyday Hero impacted her work and what it was like to play with the Dallas Wings.
Doing drills with the Dallas Wings
The Wings are so supportive, they train at UT -- they are right on the campus when we are. Team members always stop by. We had a couple of the Wings players sit in chairs and do shooting drills, just like our girls. They were surprised at how difficult it was. It's good for the kids to hear that these pro athletes are having issues as well. They also helped the girls fix their form in a sitting-down position.
Getting athletes to camp
The running joke is that I recruit campers by doing a little Facebook stalking. I find people organically too. I introduce myself to everyone at the National Wheelchair camp. We had two participants from Canada this year, and the rest were from the United States.
Our camp helps these women and girls experience basketball with other women and girls, because a lot of the kids play on co-ed teams, and they sit on the bench, as the game sometimes gets dominated by the boys. Through the camp, they learn independence and confidence in their game.
How did being an Everyday Hero help evolve the camp?
The grant money helped make the camp free for the player to attend. They have to get themselves there. It also brought more awareness to the camp; more people want to get involved. It also opened the door for other sponsors.
What drives your passion for adaptive sports?
I am in a chair myself. I'm a Paralympian. I got hurt when I was 4 years old, and I've been in a chair ever since. I found sports when I was 7, and I know how much it changed my life. It gave me a tool to experience life differently. I've traveled all over the world because of sports. I've represented my country and gotten a gold medal because of my sport. I even went on to get a Ph.D.; without adaptive sports, I might not have been able to do that. Sports can help people embrace their disabilities. It motivates you. And I want to do that for the next generation.
This interview has been edited for length.