COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - Five members have been voted in by their peers to represent the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Athlete Advisory Council (AAC). The NWBA AAC is responsible for bringing the athlete voice to the Board and Committees, actively participating in strategic initiatives and regularly attending Board and / or Committee Meetings.
Newly elected, Gail Gaeng, AAC Chair, Andrea Woodson-Smith, AAC Vice Chair, will join previously elected Steve Serio, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) AAC representative, in holding a position on the NWBA Board of Directors. Other AAC representatives, Eric Barber, Eve Hampton and Harsh Thakkar will foster two-way dialogue and also represent the Athlete perspective.
“We are excited to be at this point where we can more formally increase the athlete voice in the direction setting of the NWBA,” said Will Waller, NWBA CEO. “The environment we are living in now with a righteous focus on equality, athlete safety, eligibility and return to play illuminates the criticality of seeking and including the Athlete voice in our strategies and tactics. Personally, I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work more closely with each of these talented individuals on this inaugural AAC. Individually and collectively, they will make the NWBA a stronger, more sustainable organization.”
*Note: The NWBA previously announced that we would be filling 6 roles, but we had one candidate remove himself from consideration. We will be communicating the process to fill the remaining role in the month of July.
About Gail Gaeng (Frederick, Md.)
Gaeng (classification 3.5), youngest of six siblings, has been playing basketball for 14 years. Starting her successful career with the Bennett Blazers, Gail has played in almost all of the NWBA Divisions: Prep, Junior Varsity, Varsity, Collegiate, Women's and Division I. Gaeng is a gold medalist, co-captain and starter from the 2016 Paralympic Games and also defended the team to win gold at the 2015 Parapan American Games and at the U25 Women's World Championships. As captain of the University of Illinois Wheelchair Basketball Team (2011 – 2016), Gaeng led the team to 2nd place at the 2015 and 2016 National Championship Tournament. Gail was named MVP at the 2018 NWBA Women's National Tournament and 2018 NWBA Player of the Month. Gaeng is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Champaign, with a B.S. degree in Business Administration - Marketing and Management. Currently, Gail works as Project Coordinator on Client Operations at Strata Decision Technology which is a healthcare tech firm based in Chicago, IL. Gail is also currently serving as a member of the NWBA High Performance Committee.
About Andrea Woodson-Smith (Durham, N.C.)
Woodson-Smith (classification 4.0) has a long history in the sport of basketball having competed with the Women’s Division Dallas Lady Mavericks, Division II Dallas Mavericks, Division II Chicago Bulls, Division II RIC Hornets, Women’s RIC Sky, Division III Triangle Thunder, Division II Charlotte Rollin Hornets, Division II Charlottesville Cardinals and the Women’s Lincolnway Special Recreation Association team. In addition, Woodson-Smith was a member of the gold medal winning 2010 World Cup and 2011 Parapan American Games teams as well as the team that placed 4th at the 2012 Paralympic Games. Woodson-Smith serves as a Sports Envoy, a U.S. Department of State program that supports athletes and coaches to travel overseas to lead programs that are developed by U.S. embassies and consulates-discussing topics like disability rights, inclusion, gender equity and adapted sport with government leaders, organization/agency leaders, athletes, parents and students. With a B.S. degree in Kinesiology from James Madison University, an M.S. degree in Adapted Physical Education from North Carolina Central University and a PhD in Adapted Physical Education from Texas Woman's University, Woodson-Smith is very successful in her current career as a Professor at North Carolina Central University specializing in Adapted Physical Activity and Sports and Physical Education Pedagogy. Woodson-Smith is currently a member of the American Development Model for Paralympic Sport and the NWBA High Performance Committees. During her spare time, Woodson-Smith is an advocate for Colon Cancer, Children’s Cancer and equality for all girls and women in sports and a 7th grade girls Life Group Leader for New Hope Church.
About Eric Barber (Whitewater, Wisc.)
Starting his wheelchair basketball career at the age of 13, Barber (classification 1.0) is a 2002 NWBA National Champion, and two-time Captain Ure Sportsmanship Award recipient. Barber is a two-time bronze medalist playing with the team at the 2000 and 2012 Paralympic Games. Barber was also part of the gold medal winning teams at the 1999 and 2011 Parapan American Games as well as the 1998 and 2002 IWBF World Championships. His collection continues with a silver medal from the 2006 IWBF World Championships and a bronze medal from the 2010 IWBF World Championships. One of Barber’s fondest memories of victory is when he beat Michael Jordan in wheelchair basketball. Barber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with an MBA in Management and IT and is a 2021 candidate for Doctorate of Business Administration. Barber currently works for Madison College in Human Resources and plays for the NWBA Division II Wisconsin Thunder.
About Eve Hampton (Seattle, Wash.)
Hampton (classification 1.0) has played wheelchair basketball for 20 years, and has played for teams in the NWBA's Juniors, Intercollegiate, Women's, Division I and Division III over the last two decades. Eve grew up in the Seattle-area and attended the University of Arizona in Tucson on academic and athletic scholarships for the university’s women’s wheelchair basketball team. After graduating summa cum laude, Hampton received her master’s degree in counseling from Arizona State University. Before her recent move back to Seattle, and the birth of her second son in February, Eve worked for Adaptive Sports Northwest in Portland, Oregon as the Sports & Recreation Program Manager. Hampton currently serves as the assistant coach for Seattle’s NWBA Division I wheelchair basketball team and plays for the Seattle women’s wheelchair basketball team and for the Edmonton Inferno, part of the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League in Edmonton, Alberta. When not coaching, playing, or chasing after her children, Eve enjoys creating art-her work includes a mix of graphic design, photography, jewelry, and sculpture.
About Harsh Thakkar (Alexandria, Va.)
Thakkar (classification 2.5) has been a part of the NWBA for 13 years, beginning in 2006, nine months post injury, with the Division III NRH Punishers (formally known as the NRH Ambassadors). Thakkar was also an athlete at Edinboro University from 2008-2010 where he was awarded the Student-Athlete Award during his first season. For the past five years, Harsh has been the tournament director, team manager, classifier and athlete for the now Division 1 NRH Punishers. In addition, Thakkar has received 3rd and 2nd team all-tournament team awards in 2019 and 2020. Currently, Thakkar works as a program coordinator for the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Washington, D.C., where he facilitates an adaptive fitness program for people with neurological disabilities and a community navigation program for individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries. Harsh is the President of the United Spinal Metro DC chapter, where he continues to push the chapter’s mission, to enhance lives of individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries in the DC Metro area. Graduating from University of Maryland with a degree in Communication and Sociology, Harsh has found a way to serve other individuals with disabilities and bring awareness about inclusion, disability advocacy, and empowerment. His motto is: “help others until you’ve helped them to the point that they can help others.” Thakkar currently serves on the NWBA Ranking Committee.