When Sarah Zetzl was born with spina bifida, her parents, Heather and Jim Zetzl, never thought she would play competitive sports.
Now 11 years old and a fifth-grader at Zionsville West Middle School, Sarah has made them think again as she shoots hoops with the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana Mini Pacers wheelchair basketball team. Other team members hail from Lafayette, Bloomington, Kokomo, Avon and Indianapolis.
“There are only nine on her team,” Heather said. “We’re hoping to get the program to grow.
“One in 1,500 kids is born with spina bifida. You don’t come across them every day. It’s nice for Sarah to have that friend system.”
Though she has plenty of friends at Z-West, there is no one else at the school with spina bifida, according to the Zetzls. Active in the Spina Bifida Association of Indiana, they heard about the wheelchair basketball program and went to check out a game.
“I’ve always been really sportsy, and my mom found out about wheelchair basketball,” Sarah said. “I thought it’d be fun.”
She said she didn’t know any of the other players, so she’s made some new friends. Her team practices every Saturday at Krannert Park and plays tournaments all over the country; every January they host a tourney at the Monon Center in Carmel, Heather said.
“Tournaments are about once a month,” Jim said. “They play as many games as possible in the one or two days they’re there.”
RHI provides the coaches, wheelchairs and jerseys, he said.
Wheelchairs for the sport have special features to help ensure the safety of the players, said Sarah, who generally plays the power forward position.
“They have a rim around the foot plate,” she said, describing it as a bumper guard.
The wheels are slanted — tops in, bottoms out — to help stabilize the chairs so they don’t tip over as easily, according to Jim. He said that also makes it easier for the players to pivot and spin. Small wheels under the big ones help prevent chairs from tipping over backward, he added.