The University of Alabama Adapted Athletics program had six current and 12 former athletes compete in the Paralympics in Tokyo, which ended earlier this month.
Overall, Alabama had four athletes contribute to bringing home a medal for the country they represented.
“It was honestly a half surreal experience,” Lindsey Zurbrugg, Team USA and Alabama Women’s Wheelchair Basketball player, said.
“We have these fantastic athletes, and they’re competing for championships at Alabama but also competing for world championships and medals,” Brent Hardin, Director of UA Adapted Athletics, said. “If you want to compete at the Paralympic level, this is obviously a great place to be. We have some of the best athletes on campus right here with our program.”
The Crimson Tide boasted three current players on the bronze-medal-winning USA women’s wheelchair basketball team in Lindsey Zurbrugg, Bailey Moody, and Abby Bauleke. Zurbrugg helped the USA efforts tremendously, scoring 22-points in the final game against Germany for the bronze medal.
Team USA defeated Spain, Algeria, Canada, and Germany on its way to the bronze.
Interestingly, the USA women’s wheelchair basketball team used the motto of “that’s cheesy” to keep themselves excited and engaged in the game.
“Someone would make a play or make a shot, and the whole team would start yelling ‘that’s cheesy,’” Zurbrugg said. “If you blocked somebody’s shot, that’s a smack-and-cheese.”
If you ever wondered what goes through the mind of Olympic athletes in big games, there’s one answer for you.
Team Germany for women’s wheelchair basketball was full of Alabama Alumni, with Kate Lang, Babsi Gross, and Catha Weiss representing the Crimson Tide. So, in the bronze medal game, there were six players who played or are still playing at The Capstone.
Alabama was also represented in women’s wheelchair basketball by Joy Haizelden, who competed for Great Britain.
“It was interesting to watch the games because we’d be pulling for our athletes, but they were playing against each other,” Hardin said.
Ignacio Ortega was the current men’s wheelchair basketball representative, playing for Team Spain. Ortega helped Spain get all the way to the bronze medal game, but the Spaniards lost the medal to Great Britain.
Former wheelchair basketball player at Alabama, Annika Zeyen, competed for Germany in the road hand cycling race. Zeyen left Tokyo with two medals, a Gold in the women’s H1-3 time trial race and a silver in the H1-4 road race.
Current Alabama wheelchair tennis player Shelby Baron competed in singles and doubles for Team USA while in Tokyo. Baron fought hard in a doubles loss to China, and she played well in a singles loss to Brazil. Although the outcome was not what she expected, Baron left knowing she competed with the best in the world.
Baron is an assistant coach for the Alabama wheelchair tennis team, so she will have her hands full leading the Crimson Tide throughout its tournaments this season, knowing what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball begins its season at home against Auburn on Oct. 15. The women begin their season at home against Memphis the same day. They will both continue to play until nationals on March 15.
“I just went from the highest level of competition there is, learning all those new skills and knowing that I can keep up with the offense and the defense and shoot with that intense pressure, it makes me super confident going into this collegiate season,” Zurbrugg said. “I’m super excited.”
For wheelchair tennis, the Crimson Tide has played two tournaments so far, and will be playing until nationals in mid-April.
“Playing a full schedule… I’m really looking forward to that,” Hardin said. “The energy is really great in here right now, and everybody is excited to get going with this season.”