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Honeymooner catches paralyzing virus, moves forward with wheelchair sports

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Gonzalez helps his team to a tournament win. Photo courtesy: Angel Martinez
Angel Gonzalez still remembers the day everything changed. He caught transverse myelitis while surfing on his honeymoon.

The virus attacked his spine and left Gonzalez paralyzed from the waist down. It caught Gonzalez by surprise and it changed his life forever.

“I have always been positive,” Gonzalez said. “I have a great family and great friends.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, transverse myelitis occurs in adults and children, in both genders and in all races.

It is estimated that about 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the U.S., and approximately 33,000 Americans have some type of disability resulting from the disorder.

After eight years, Gonzalez closed his construction business and returned to school to finish his degree at UH to major in advertising and minor in marketing.

“I’m just trying to finish my degree to close that chapter of my life,” Gonzalez said.

Competitive sports have helped Gonzalez make the transition.

“A friend introduced me to wheelchair sports,” said Gonzalez. “Life should continue to move forward whether you are in a chair or on your feet. Getting involved in sports will give you another piece of your life back and you will make new friends that understand your life.”

After Gonzalez discovered wheelchair sports, he started playing softball, basketball, soccer, tennis, football and rugby.

Wheelchair rugby resembles basketball, in that everyone has a specific position or task on every play, whether it’s passing the ball or blocking.

Team members block for one another, using picks and screens in order to let the ball carrier score. Physical contact between wheelchairs is permitted and forms a major part of the game. Like most rugby matches, wheelchair rugby games are fluid and fast-paced, with possession switching back and forth between the teams while play continues.

Gonzalez participates in all these sports through the Paralympic Experience Program by TIRR Memorial Hospital. The program introduces people with physical and visual disabilities to local paralympic sports.

“This is just a hobby for me, but it can be a career for others,” Gonzalez said. “The (rugby) league is played all over Texas. It gives us the opportunity to play other cities, compete against other players and see other gyms,” said Gonzalez.

The goal of the program is to show individuals with physical and visual disabilities how participation in sports and living a healthy, active lifestyle can have a profoundly positive impact in their lives.

Paralympic Experience gives every individual the opportunity to compete. The games are not regulated to experienced wheel-chair athletes only.

“Everyone can play in a tournament, unless it is a sanctioned tournament. Sanction just means that you get points for every game you play,” Gonzalez said. “I just love to compete and meet new people.”



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