In the spirit of the BC Winter Games -- wheelchair basketball athlete Jezewsky brings inspiring story to hardcourt

Derek Jezewsky was involved in a motocross accident that changed his life last April in Kelowna.

The 21-year-old Fraser Lake man, who moved to Kamloops about five years ago, broke his T6 and T7 vertebrae, fractured four ribs and had both of his lungs lacerated.

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He is in the early stages of adjusting to life in a wheelchair, but it's already clear sports will be key in the transition.

Jezewsky has wasted no time in being named to a provincial select wheelchair basketball team that travels to compete out of province, but his next opportunity to shine will come this week at the BC Winter Games in Kamloops.

"Ever since I crashed, I've known what I've gotten myself into," said Jezewsky, who uses hand controls to drive a truck with 33-inch tires. "I've never regretted anything. You could trip going down four stairs and break your neck. With the support I've gotten from my hometown and everybody involved, I've been able to come out of it with a really positive attitude."

Prior to the injury last spring, Jezewsky excelled in all sorts of sports, including football, soccer and dirt biking. The new life he leads has closed some doors in athletics, but opened others.

"I've succeeded in those sports," Jezewsky said. "I've already gotten what I need out of them. Now I can take myself and put myself into those sports in a different way and show people it's still possible, even though you're still in a wheelchair."

Jezewsky said about 60 per cent of the wheelchair basketball athletes he plays with and against are able-bodied.

"We're trying to spread this sport to be all-inclusive," said Jezewsky, who also plays wheelchair tennis competitively and is aiming to play basketball at the national level.

With an age range of about 13 to 21 in wheelchair basketball at the BC Winter Games, there is some concern among experienced athletes about the strength of competition.

That is one of the factors that has kept a few Kamloops athletes from signing up for the Games, along with the registration fee. All BC Games participants pay $175, for which they receive transportation, accommodation and meals.

Some sports ask athletes to pay more to cover extras such as training and uniforms.

"The Thompson-Okanagan doesn't have enough people in order to make a full team, which is really disappointing," Jezewsky said. "But it will still be a good experience."

Able-bodied athletes from Kamloops have stepped up to ensure Thompson-Okanagan has enough players to form a team.

Summer Bogetti-Smith, 12, and brother Finn, 14, have little to no experience in the sport, but were eager to join when they heard the team was short players.

Their uncle, Kelly Smith, was injured in a rock climbing accident in 1991 and went on to win silver in the marathon event at the 2004 Paralympic Summer Games in Athens.

The kids' father, photographer Kevin Bogetti-Smith, has worked in the past for the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association.

Kevin said it was a perfect fit for his children to join Jezewsky's squad, especially considering Summer wanted to compete in the Games in speed skating, but was not old enough to qualify.

Grade 9 athlete Christopher Crowe, a friend of the Bogetti-Smiths, also joined the hoops squad. Saskia Speed, from Celista, is the other local wheelchair basketball athlete listed on the Games' website.

Wheelchair basketball games will be held at Sa-Hali secondary on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Thompson-Okanagan will open play against Fraser Valley on Friday at 8:45 a.m.

The tournament final will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday. The complete schedule is online at bcgames.org.

"Not a lot of able-bodied people see the wheelchair side of sports," Jezewsky said.

"They just see people in a wheelchair. I've always been into sports, but now I feel like I can make a difference showing people a different side of sports."

© Kamloops This Week

 


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