Teen Surprised With Custom Wheelchair to Make Her Basketball Dreams Come True
In 2009, when Olivia Curcuru was just 3 years old, she was hit by a truck while riding her tricycle. The accident left Olivia with a spinal cord injury that required her to use a wheelchair. But almost immediately following the accident, she was determined to follow her dreams—many of which involve athletics. The now 13-year-old plays wheelchair basketball, loves archery, and has previously been involved in swimming and dancing.
The Scottsdale, Arizona teen's infectious spirit and relentless drive made her one of three young people to be presented with an adaptive sports wheelchair at the 2019 Angel City Games, a sports festival that honors athletes with physical disabilities and was held at the University of California Los Angeles on June 21. The sports wheelchair was made possible thanks to a donation from The Hartford's Ability Equipped program and presented as a surprise to Olivia by Paralympian gold medalist Megan Blunk. Following the presentation, Olivia and Megan engaged in a one-on-one lesson.
Speaking exclusively to Parents.com following the surprise presentation at UCLA, Olivia shared that it felt "incredible" and "unreal." "I've been waiting for this moment basically since I was injured," she shares. "I finally have a wheelchair that actually fits me now, instead of a wheelchair that might fit me."
According to The Hartford, sports wheelchairs average about $2,500 per chair, and depending on added features can cost over $5,000.
But no matter the price tag, not having a custom model can lead to a slew of challenges for the user. "With those other chairs, you might not move in it the right way, and you might injure yourself," Olivia explains. "It's different because my regular chair, I feel like I have all this weight on me, and on this, I feel like I can physically jump in my chair."
That feeling is something that extends to a variety of moments in the teen's life, from carrying all of her books and supplies at school to moving obstacles in her way to transferring into a car by herself. "If it looks like I can't do something, just let me do it myself, and I'll figure it out," Olivia says.
Olivia's mother, Carolyn Curcuru, tells Parents.com that her daughter's take-charge, proactive attitude has been apparent since she saw wheelchair basketball for the first time at 3 years old.
"When we came out of the hospital in rehab, three days after being released, and someone said, 'Oh, there's a wheelchair basketball game; you guys should go check that out,'" the proud mom shares. "So, we went down to a gym and watched this male wheelchair basketball game. And she's on the sidelines, holding onto the wheels, and we had to hold her back, because she was trying to push out on the court, because she wanted to go play."
Blunk, who suffered a spinal cord injury herself in 2008, couldn't have been more thrilled to help Olivia take her athletic dreams to the next level. "This is 100 percent my passion," the two-time Paralympian and Nike commercial star tells Parents.com. "It's everything that I've been through and experienced and what I've learned since my accident 11 years ago combined in one moment. It's everything. It changes your life to have a chair that fits you correctly and allows you to be your very best. It's the same as wearing some tennis shoes that are your size. Now, she has a chair that fits and she can run and move, and show what she's capable of, and show herself what she's capable of. But it takes others [like The Hartford] giving us those opportunities and helping us."
She also has words of wisdom for parents of kids like Olivia: "I know you want to help them, and you want their life to be easier, and you hate seeing them struggle, but don't help them as much as you are," Blunk shares. "If you see them struggling to push up a hill, make them finish that hill. Because then the next hill they go up will be easier, and the hills aren't going to stop, you know? But they will get easier the more you push up them yourself."
Blunk recommends that kids who have a physical disability "learn to maneuver the world." She explains, "The world is not set up for people with disabilities and the more you can do, the better you're going to get around, and the more opportunities you'll have."
Thanks to her mom Carolyn's support and her own innate independence and strength, Olivia is hitting her boldest goals every day. While she may currently look up to Paralympic athletes like Blunk, the 13-year-old is clearly on her way to becoming a role model in her own right for the next generation.
The teen's best advice for kids who want to take on athletics like she has? "If something you want to do doesn't seem possible, it is always possible," Olivia says. "If it wasn't possible, I would probably not get this chair. Try and adapt it for you."