The youngest member selected for the U.S. Women’s National team is 17-year-old Riley Ljungdahl of Longmont, Colorado. The youngest member with one of the greatest comeback stories. When she was 11 years old she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called transverse myelitis, which is caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. The inflammation prevents the nerves in the spine from communicating with the rest of the body, and, in Riley's case, has led to paralysis from her sternum through her feet.
She was only a fifth grader at the time and remembers how her class at St. John the Baptist Catholic School came together to support her. They visited her in the hospital had holiday parties in her room and brought her games and toys. She recalls how sad she originally felt and how she wished she could be a normal girl without a wheelchair. However, support from her family, her class and all her friends helped her accept her new way of living.
“Ultimately my faith helped me push through. Things happen to people for a certain reason. I know I am in a wheelchair but I can do many powerful things. You have to realize how to just get over it and do the best you can,” said Ljungdahl.
She later found the sport of wheelchair basketball and was able to begin playing in the junior division. She has been a stand out for the Denver Rolling Nuggets year after year and continues to surprise her coaches. She initially played at a summer camp only a few months after being diagnosed. She had originally wanted to try adaptive sports, specifically skiing but she picked up basketball right away and her presence on the court landed her a spot with the Nuggets.
When I'm playing basketball my life feels as normal as any other kid out there," Riley said. "I mean you can't dunk over a person or anything like that, but I think you get the same amount of experience and vibe that you do from able-bodied sports,” added Ljungdahl.
Now surprising everyone with her recovery she stands out once again making the U.S. Women’s National team and getting to travel internationally. Being so young she has plenty of time and potential to grow within the sport. She not only has room for one Paralympic team but with her youthfulness she could make appearances in 2020 and beyond.