2002-03-23 / Sports

Queens Native Finds Wheelchair Basketball and Joy

By Danny Perry

Queens Native Finds Wheelchair
Basketball and Joy
By Danny Perry

In theory, seeing a glass as half full instead of half empty is easy. In reality though, the practice is much harder. For Queens native and Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA) employee Edy Lopez, being positive is a way of life.

He has been living with a disability for 20 years, but has used wheelchair basketball as a way to express his leadership and outgoing personality. With his team, the EPVA Nets, who are co-sponsored by the New Jersey Nets and EPVA, scheduled to compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Regional Tournament in Orlando, Florida, from March 8-10, Lopez’s leadership skills will need to be fully utilized

As a Navy veteran who was on a naval tour off the coast of Africa, Lopez was dealt a blow that would affect the way he lived the rest of his life. He fell off the naval ship’s flight deck onto the "cat walk" below. He ended up landing on his right knee, severely damaging the kneecap, as well as ligaments. Initially, he was put into a soft cast.

Two months later when the ship arrived back in the US, his knee was reevaluated and x-rays revealed the development of a cancerous cluster. As a result, the doctors were forced to amputate Lopez’s leg from the mid thigh. Lopez’s faith was then being put to the test. "I realize that life is going to move on with or without you," he states.

Lopez always played basketball and after the leg amputation, he continued to try and play the sport he loved with the help of a prosthetic leg. Unfortunately, the rigors of the game were too much for the artificial limb and as a result, not only did the prosthetic legs break, but Lopez was also getting injured. At this point, Lopez was recommended that he try his hand at wheelchair basketball and in 1989, he joined the Bulova Watchmakers, which was a local team based in Woodside, Queens.

The following year, Lopez met the late Angelo Nicosia, who was the EPVA Sports and Recreation Director at the time. Nicosia told Lopez about the benefits of playing for EPVA’s wheelchair team, known then as the Chargers. He also offered to send him to basketball camp. The following season, Lopez joined the EPVA Chargers. That same year, Lopez obtained a position with EPVA as the mailroom supervisor, which he still holds to this day.

Aside from the 1999-2000 season, when Lopez played for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ wheelchair basketball team, he has been a fixture at the center position for EPVA’s wheelchair basketball team. In all eleven seasons Lopez has been with the basketball program, he’s been named to the Eastern Wheelchair Basketball Conference All-Star team and was named conference MVP nine times.

In 1992, he was invited to the USA trials for the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona. In addition, in the 1998-1999 season, he was selected to play in the first NBA/National Wheelchair Basketball Association All-Star Jam. The game was played in New York City.

Wheelchair basketball has been a true blessing for Lopez. "When you first suffer a disability, you don’t want to gather any attention," states Lopez. "Wheelchair sports actually create attention for you though. It also shows people that there is other things besides a disability that a person possesses." The sport of wheelchair basketball has allowed Lopez to show off his extroverted and fun-loving personality.

Since 1999, when the EPVA Chargers became the EPVA Nets, the team has been putting on demonstrations of wheelchair basketball at halftime of New Jersey Nets games. This is when Lopez has been able to reveal his flamboyant style of play. It’s normal to see him make pinpoint behind the back passes and reverse lay-ups, much to the crowd’s delight.

Wheelchair basketball has allowed Lopez to use some of his natural leadership skills. "Sometimes I feel like a leader, and sometimes I don’t," Lopez points out. "I just want to bring out the best in everybody. I like seeing people reach their full potential."

As the EPVA Nets prepare for the Eastern Regional Tournament, they are fully aware of the high level of competition that they will be facing in Florida. "My main goal has always been to make the ‘Final Four,’" says Lopez, which is the position the team will be in if they win the regional tournament.

The ability to reach the very peak of a particular sport can be very elusive for athletes. Rest assured though, if Lopez never obtains this goal, he will still enjoy the challenge, as well as all the sights and sounds surrounding this ultimate journey.

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