UPDATE Sept. 4: Team USA took bronze in women’s wheelchair basketball at the Tokyo Paralympics, beating Germany in the bronze-medal match, 64-51. Mareike Miller of Germany led all scorers with 26 points, and Courtney Ryan had 14 points and 6 assists for Team USA.
This will be the first Paralympics for both Ryan and Eaton, though they have each competed at previous World Championships.
Courtney Ryan is very out and very proud
Ryan was a first team All-American soccer player for the Division II Metro State Univ. in Denver when she became paralyzed below the waist over a decade ago. When she heard about wheelchair basketball, she wasn’t sure if it was for her. Once she saw some women playing the sport, she knew it was for her.
“I need this in my life,” she says in this great video from the It Gets Better project. “I got my first wheelchair basketball chair and that was it for me. Game over. My identity as an athlete had arrived.”
Ryan wants to be as publicly out and publicly proud of being a lesbian as she possibly can be.
“It’s really frustrating that I have such a strong relationship with being a lesbian and being proud,” she says in the It Gets Better video. “But it’s sometimes hidden because of the disability, and pushed aside, even though I want that to be out, I want to be proud. But it’s so hard when everybody just sees the chair.
Kaitlyn Eaton has been playing wheelchair basketball almost her whole life
Kaitlyn Eaton has been around wheelchair basketball almost her entire life, picking up the sport when she was 5. Eaton went on to play for Paralympic champion Stephanie Wheeler on the Univ. of Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team and has now become one of the best players in the United States and was named to Team USA before the COVID pandemic.
She had been trying out for the team since 2013.
“I’m playing with the 11 best girls in America right now,” she told KHOU11. “That’s awesome. Going to those practices and being able to play at such a high level right now – you really can’t beat it.”
Recently Eaton celebrated the one-year anniversary of being with her girlfriend, Ally.
Team USA’s two decades of success
Team USA won gold in women’s wheelchair basketball in three of the last four Paralympics. Hall of Famer Wheeler was a constant on those teams, playing in 2004 and 2008 and coaching five years ago in Rio. Wheeler is no longer with the team, instead focusing on her team at the Univ. of Illinois.