After a gunshot wound in 2009 left him in need of a wheelchair, Leo Leyva thought his life was over.
"I didn't want to talk to nobody after my injury," the 23-year-old said.
Now he's got a whole new lease on life.
The Logan Square resident and member of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's Hornets wheelchair basketball team said discovering the sport helped him regain his confidence.
Prior to getting shot, Leyva said he was an avid basketball player. Taking up the wheelchair version taught him a lot about himself.
"You've got to learn a lot of techniques and a lot of different skills," he said. "You've just gotta play harder now. It's a lot harder now because you obviously have got to push instead of running."
He's not alone.
At this weekend's Neal Radbel Memorial Tournament at Broadway Armory Park in Edgewater, stories abound on how wheelchair basketball completely changed players' outlooks on life.
For Chicago Wheelchair Bulls star Kyle Gribble, the sport opened doors to a future he never thought possible.
"I never thought about anything after high school, what I wanted to do," the 18-year-old Elgin resident said. "Now, I have a clear-cut idea of what I want to do, I know where I'm going to school."
Gribble recently committed to play basketball for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Division III school doesn't offer athletic scholarships, but it does offer something much more valuable: a collegiate wheelchair basketball team and hope for students like Gribble.
"I never thought about going to college, he said. "I signed with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater back in February. That's always been my dream school. When I started getting recruited, I checked out the other schools but I didn't feel the same as when I was on Whitewater's campus."
Its stories like that that Dan Ferreira, a Wheelchair Bulls board member and one of the driving forces behind the sport in Chicago, hopes to replicate moving forward.
"When you acquire a disability or are born with a disability, it's almost like a death sentence, when really that is not the case at all," he said. "These adults here, these are role models for a lot of kids in our program. It's about being a leader in the disabled community."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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