Mike Romanowski was just 19 years old when he joined the United States Airforce to work in Security Forces. He had never been away from home, never been on a plane, and everything was new to him. But once he completed basic training, he came to the realization that he could handle the military.
Romanowski joined in 1994, and describes his years in the service to be rather calm compared to post 911. “I was what they call pre 911. The kids nowadays, post 911, they are going to Iraq, Afghanistan, things like that. I never saw any combat, I was never shot at or anything like that,” he said. “The world was a very different place before 911. 911 changed a lot.”
As a member of Security Forces, his job was to protect the bases and make sure all the rules and regulations were followed. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan for three years and Lexington, Massachusetts for one year. When stationed in Japan, he dealt with the controversy of their presence.
“We had some instances in Japan where there was a lot of protests about us being there so we had to delicately deal with the Japanese citizens. So that was difficult for me,” he said.
Romanowski originally joined because he had a lot of friends join the military at the time and it “seemed like kind of the cool thing to do.” He received an Air Force Commendation Medal for his service and left in August of 1998 to pursue his goal to become a police officer. He was a police officer for about ten years, until 2009, when he contracted multiple sclerosis.
His diagnosis was life changing. “It was very difficult. I was out of work, I had to figure out a different way to bring in income for my family. We almost lost our home. It was very difficult. It was a long few years,” he said. But through it all, his family was extremely supportive. “Without them I would not be here.”
Romanowski’s life took a turn once again when his family moved from Michigan, his home state, to Nevada, in 2014. However this time, it was for the better. A man from the VA in Las Vegas introduced him to wheelchair basketball.
Having played able-bodied football, baseball, and basketball growing up all the way to high-school, it was a difficult transition from able-bodied sports to wheelchair basketball for Romanowski. “Wheelchair basketball was a thousand times more difficult than stand-up ball,” he said. “You are not only worrying about shooting a basketball, but you are also worrying about pushing a wheelchair. The motion of shooting a basketball is different because you are not really using your legs. I still struggle with that, the shooting part.”
Soon, Romanowski began to love the sport and everything about it. Wheelchair basketball had such a positive impact on his life that when the former coach of the Las Vegas team decided to take a year off, Romanowski decided to take over and create a 501c3 non-profit called the Las Vegas Wheelchair Basketball Foundation. The foundation gave him the opportunity to impact lives the way wheelchair basketball impacted his.
“I got a text message from someone in Detroit about our team because he is moving from Detroit to Las Vegas. He played basketball for the Detroit NWBA team and now he wants to play with us. I was able to help give him resources,” he said.
Romanowski says he and his non-profit are working towards getting more Veterans involved in wheelchair basketball.
Thank you Veterans
The NWBA would like to thank all Veterans for their service. We appreciate our Veteran members telling their stories and for becoming involved in our sport, regardless of their story.