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UW-Whitewater has sights set on 3-time gold at upcoming Paralympics

University's wheelchair basketball team earned its 14th national title in program history last month

A wheelchair basketball player holds the ball in one hand as he moves toward the goal.
UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball player Talen Jourdan prepares to shoot a basket during practice Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Whitewater, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Jake Williams was hit by a car while riding his bike when he was 16. The accident paralyzed him from the waist down.

The avid runner and swimmer thought his time as an athlete had ended. But while hospitalized, a visit from a member of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s wheelchair basketball team changed his life. 

“I decided to try it, and then I went to college and I’ve been playing since,” said Williams.

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Williams is now part of the storied UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball team’s history. 

He hopes to add another chapter this summer. 

With Williams now serving as team coach, the UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball team earned its 14th national title in program history in March.

This summer, Williams and players Talen Jourdan, a senior at the school, and sophomore AJ Fitzpatrick will compete in the Paralympic Games in Paris. 

“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty awesome,” WIlliams said. “It’s really the pinnacle of any sport, for sure.” 

Team USA was chosen in early April after three rounds of tryouts. 

First, the top 32 players in the country were asked to compete. Now, a team of 12 American athletes will practice in Colorado Springs before heading to Europe in August for the Paralympic Games, which are set for Aug. 28-Sept. 8. 

This is not the first paralympics for Williams. 

In 2016, he helped lead Team USA to victory and a gold medal at the Paralympics Games in Rio. In 2015, he won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canada. And in 2013, he won a gold medal at the world championships qualifying tournament in Bogota, Columbia.

UW-Whitewater Wheelchair Athletics has been part of the campus since 1973. 

The program includes a men’s and a women’s intercollegiate wheelchair basketball team competing at the highest level in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s intercollegiate division.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may be the only other program that boasts a longer history of dominance in the sport.

Like Williams, athletes are recruited to play at Whitewater from across the country.

Two wheelchair basketball players in jerseys work to get to the ball.
UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball players Jeromie Meyer, left, and, Talen Jourdan, right, practice Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Whitewater, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

AJ Fitzpatrick was recruited from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2022. 

The sophomore was born with arthrogryposis, a disability that makes it hard to grow muscle from the waist down. 

He says this season has been an emotional roller coaster.

“This is definitely a confidence builder,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I was younger, I wanted to be able to do all the things able bodied kids could do, but obviously I had some physical limitations. This has definitely helped and feels like a huge, huge accomplishment for me.” 

Jourdan was a four-sport athlete before a life-changing injury at age 13 paralyzed him from the waist down.

He said wheelchair basketball has been a major change, but is a new passion.

“It gives a lot of kids a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Jourdan said. “And if we go gold this year, it will be the first time ever for a team to win three gold medals in a row.”

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