Adversity is a part of life; there is no way to avoid it. Life is going to throw us curveballs every now and then, especially when we least expect it. Most people can remember or will someday reach a very difficult and low point in life that is going to change them for the rest of time, for better or worse. But we most certainly have the power to make good out of everything. It all depends on how we handle ourselves, learn from life, and not let things keep us down. Optimism in times of adversity is certainly not overrated.
The year was 1989 and Beaverton graduate Terry Weaver had just returned home while on leave from the Army. It was his first day back in his hometown and he immediately wanted to relive the good old days out on the water. He was spending time out on Wixom Lake, jumping and diving off the boat just like he had always done while growing up. However, what happened next could never have been predicted. “I was jumping off the boat and doing the same kinds of things that I did when I was a kid,” said Terry, “and then I just dove into the water and hit a tube the wrong way.” In an instant Terry’s life would change forever. His neck twisted and halfway through his first day home, Terry was now a paraplegic. From being an Army soldier, bike rider, and football player to a man now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Life had thrown Terry a curveball and now it was up to him to make the best of it. It was now time for him to decide how he was going to handle a new low point in life.
Rehab began immediately down in Detroit. They immediately put him through difficult tasks, having him doing vigorous trunk workouts involving him bending and lifting heavy weights. He was also tasked with doing various things in the kitchen; things that he would have to learn how to do in everyday life. “They never gave me a chance to feel bad while in rehab,” said Terry.
In 1991 he found a way to keep his mind clear and motivated when he discovered wheelchair basketball in Grand Rapids. “I was angry, angry because I could no longer be in the military,” said Terry. “I thought ‘why me’, but I fortunately got over that fast after finding sports. Sports became a release. I now had something that I wanted to wake up and do every day.”
Even though basketball had become a new positive, Michigan’s winters were a different story. “Being in a wheelchair during Michigan’s winter months was not fun at all,” said Terry. “Mobility in a wheelchair was nearly impossible, so for 6 months out of the year I was basically stuck inside.” So the decision was made to move to South Carolina where the winters could no longer hold him back. The unfortunate side of this move was that no one in his new town seemed to be playing basketball, Terry’s newfound passion.
Terry discovered a new game instead, Tennis, and it turned out he was pretty darn good at it. In 1995 and 1996 he was the number 1 ranked wheelchair tennis player in the world for his division. He received a full sponsorship from Wilson and had travel expenses and equipment paid for. He was invited to the U.S. Open where he took 1st and earned a Waterford crystal racquet trophy and number one trophy. On two occasions Terry was also invited to the World Challenge tennis tournament in Alabama as a wild card. Here the top 10 players are invited to compete from around the world. Terry played his way to 6th and 7th place finishes.
All of this incredible tennis success happened in a short six-year career. “I was playing tennis 30 hours a week and traveling 3 weekends a month. There were times when I would travel from one tournament to the next. After 6 years I began to get burned out and found it hard to juggle with a family.”
But Terry couldn’t let his sports career end here. Sports had become a way of life and were a driving force behind all of his passions. In 1998 Terry thought that if no one around was playing basketball, then he was just going to have to make them want to play. So he started a team called the North Charleston Hurricanes and began recruiting. It’s the team that he still plays on today.
“I used sports to connect with others. I encouraged them that with practice you can find you niche.” Terry taught everyone on his team how to play and then they joined the Carolina Wheelchair Basketball Conference. It is made up of 5 to 7 different teams and the season lasts from August to March and consists of 20 to 25 games.
Wheelchair basketball doesn’t differ much from regular basketball. Whoever player is in possession of the ball gets two pushes per dribble, then they must pass shoot, or dribble again. The games consist of two 20-minute halves and teams usually play back-to-back games.
Terry practices two days a week for 3 hours and works on conditioning every other day with the games taking place on the weekends. The Hurricanes are also sponsored by AWE (Achieving Wheelchair Equality) who helps cover hotels, flights, and equipment for basketball.
During his time with the Hurricanes Terry has got to travel to National’s 5 times and has been named to the All-Conference team and most valuable player in his class for all 17 years he has been in the league. He most recent accolade came by in March of this year when he was voted into the CWBC Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He also has had the privilege of teaching the first female inducted into the hall of fame how to play basketball.
During his basketball career he has also been able to play in Michael Jordan’s high school gym and even the same high school that Justin Verlander attended.
Now 47, Terry says that he wants to keep playing as long as he stays healthy. In the meantime he is looking at moving onto to becoming a coach. Mentorship is something Terry has prioritized during his years in South Carolina. For almost 20 years Terry has worked with the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina to teach and share his story with hundreds of college students as well as show them how to better use their wheelchairs to move around and overcome obstacles and barriers.
His teaching even transitions into Hollywood where he taught actor Halk Fentschel how to use and maneuver around his wheelchair for a character that he played on the TV show “Reckless”. The two played basketball together and Terry taught Halk how to transfer in and out of his wheelchair for certain scenes that he had while on the show. Terry was able to visit the set and the two remained in contact.
Terry himself has been in a commercial for Nissan in Charleston, an AT&T bank commercial, and was a extra in the show “Inspectors” where he can be seen racing a wheelchair in the background.
Even with his busy schedule Terry still finds time for some hobbies. When most people think of someone being in a wheelchair they usually don’t connect that with racing cars. But Terry doesn’t let the odds hold him back; he finds ways to get things done. “I may do things a little differently,” said Terry, “but I’ll find a way to do it.” It astonishes people to learn that he enjoys building cars and racing them on the tracks. All his vehicles are equipped with hand controls allowing him to drive himself around with no problem. His current racing toy is his red Nissan GTR. “People always like to come up to me and ask me all sorts of questions when I get out of my car,” says Terry. “Young people will ask me how can they get themselves a car like that? I will then try to encourage them and motivate them to work hard. My goal is to never shoot down anyone’s dreams and encourage them to jump on opportunities.”
Despite not being able to walk on his own there seems to be nothing that Terry can’t do. He’s even completed a 64-mile hand cycling marathon, water skied, and took part in the Veteran’s Wheelchair Games. “I’ve tried just about everything, it’s been a pretty cool life and I can’t complain ” smiled Terry.
Terry is prime example of how the low points we face in life can be turned into something amazing. By never giving up and never looking at life as being unfair, Terry simply was able to put effort into newfound passions and live a pretty incredible life. “It doesn’t just apply to those people with disabilities,” says Terry. “Everyday people need encouragement. “By not focusing on your problems and finding something you enjoy doing everyday, people will live longer, healthier, and happier lives.”
It’s not Terry’s physical disability that sets him apart from everyone else; it’s his attitude, work ethic, and desire to encourage others. And if we all learned to see things as Terry does, I think we all would live a pretty incredible life.