Wheelchair basketball played a significant role in Brian Wofford’s recovery, both physically and mentally, from his combat injuries. In high school he was a three sport athlete who played football, wrestling, and powerlifting. Wofford identified as an athlete, and post amputee he questioned his identity and if he could still be an athlete.
“It [wheelchair basketball] was instrumental in helping me to move past some of the questioning things in my head and to prove to myself that I can still be competitive and can still be an athlete. Just because I am disabled doesn’t mean that part of me is gone,” said Wofford.
Wofford was first introduced to wheelchair basketball through Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior Project. The organizations paid for a snow skiing trip in New Hampshire for Veterans. They conducted a fundraiser to help pay for the trip by having the newly injured Veterans play wheelchair basketball against the local fire department.
The games were played in regular day chairs, but Wofford immediately fell in love with the sport. He went back to his hometown, McLoud, Oklahoma, and talked to the VA who connected him with a team in Oklahoma that was affiliated with Oklahoma University.
Wofford’s story of how he became an amputee starts in 2001, when he joined the army for active duty as a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout or a reconnaissance specialist. He was inspired to join by the father-like figures in his family who had all served and his upbringing had taught him to always defend those who can’t defend themselves. After he completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was deployed to Korea, Texas, and lastly Iraq in 2004.
Wofford and his crew were doing a grand opening for a sewage pump station they had rebuilt in Baghdad. They were getting ready to head back to base when two car bombs detonated and threw Wofford out of his truck ten feet into the air.
Despite the chaos around him, he remained calm. “They [the medics] came up to me, ‘Sergeant Wofford, what’s the matter?’ I said my left leg hurts, I can’t lift my right hand but I am okay, go help someone else,” he explained. “I ended up being the last of the 11 U.S. soldiers injured that was evacuated out of the area because I was so calm and coherent. It turned out that I ended up being more of the critically injured.”
He suffered severe shrapnel injuries to his entire body and was in a coma for a week and a half. When he woke up, he was in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Originally the doctor told him he was in no danger of losing his leg, but after a complication during his surgeries, his left leg had to be amputated above the knee.
Today, Wofford sees his amputation in a positive light. “I think it was a blessing that I got amputated rather than keeping my leg,” he said.
Wofford retired from the Army in July of 2005 and received several awards for his service. He has been playing wheelchair basketball for 12 years now and currently plays for University of Wisconsin- Whitewater.
He is thankful for being exposed to the sport and the impact it has had on his life. “I was really grateful for Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior project for being so active with the Department of Defense and exposing us to disabled sports and showing us that we can still continue to be athletic,” he said. “When I found wheelchair basketball, I took to it right away. It was a huge part of my recovery physically and mentally...I always tell people it was my saving grace."
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.