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Wheelchair athlete exceeds limitations

Staff writer

For the past eight years, wheelchair sports have provided an outlet for para-athlete Wenxi Funk to push his limits.

“I see a lot of people who can’t use their mobility,” he said. “That challenged me to think about how I could use my ability to make it work.”

The Hillsboro freshman competes in several sports, including wheelchair basketball, tennis, track and field, and road races.

“Basketball was my favorite,” he said. “I always wanted to do it, so as a group in track we decided to do more stuff.”

Wenxi’s athletic pursuit has brought him in contact with several elite para-athletes, from friends in Mississippi and Tennessee, to Paralympics tennis player Casey Ratzlaff.

One of the biggest challenges for his mother, Leanne, was when Wenxi participated in a wheelchair basketball camp at the University of Illinois as a sixth grader, but she couldn’t help.

“It was the only camp that had a players and coaches camps at the same time,” she said. “He was the youngest, littlest kid there. He was a sixth grader going onto seventh, and some of those guys were seniors.”

It was also a learning experience for her.

“It was a great experience because it taught me I probably help him too much,” she said.

One of biggest mistakes with adaptive sports is trying to lessen the workload on athletes, while they often need extra work to compensate, Leanne said.

“We don’t need to take it easy on them, we need to push them,” she said. “We need to treat them like they’re athletes.”

Leanne goes with Wenxi once a week to practice in Wichita, but she said it’s a worthy sacrifice to let him play on a team.

“Everybody is looking for a place to play,” she said. “By yourself it doesn’t work out that well. Here he’s a population of one, so finding someone else to play wheelchair sports with doesn’t happen often.”

Leanne coaches Wenxi the rest of the time and works on maintenance of his two specially designed athletic wheelchairs.

The family element is helpful in terms of preparation and having support, Leanne said.

“It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about someone else fixing your chair, or something breaks and you don’t know how it’s going to work,” she said. “It’s become a family affair because his cousins and aunts travel with us.”

While it is a priority, wheelchair sports can also be very expensive, with different chairs depending on the sport, each ranging $2,000 to $3,000, Leanne said.

“Very few parents, after paying medical bills or whatever else, can really dole that out at one time,” she said. “There’s really no one to make payments on that stuff, you almost need a loan like you’d get for a car.”

Last modified Aug. 7, 2019

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