Tommy Spagnolo was a 3 sport athlete in high school, playing soccer, basketball and baseball. He attended Delaware State University on a baseball scholarship prior to his injury. He is currently in school majoring in aviation. While at Magee, Tommy was introduced to the sport of wheelchair basketball, and once he gave it a shot he was hooked.
Magee: What is your injury level and how did you get hurt?
TS: I was injured on October 11, 2016 in a motorcycle crash, when an oncoming driver ran a red light and hit me directly. The impact caused me to eject from the bike and fly over 50 feet to the ground. As a result of the accident I sustained a spinal cord injury at level T-4.
Magee: After your injury did you ever think you could be an athlete again?
TS: Initially after my injury I was unaware of how I could compete athletically, but I always knew the athlete inside of me would never disappear. It took me two years to finally join the Magee Spokesman wheelchair basketball team.
Magee: Why did you wait so long to try adapted sports?
TS: In those first two years without any competitive outlet, I found myself falling into a deeper and deeper depression. I had lost everything in my life at age 21, this includes my military career as I was an officer in the Coast Guard, my career as a commercial pilot, and my collegiate athletic career.
When I played wheelchair basketball for the first time I was initially very apprehensive because I did not feel balanced whatsoever when competing in wheelchair basketball. My injury left me paralyzed from the nipple-line down, leaving me with no core control at all. Without any core, it is very hard to remain balanced. I also had to learn the game from a seated position. I had to understand that the wheelchair is now an extension of my body, and now requires much more space and time to manipulate properly. With a little practice, and some changes to my seating position, I now feel much more comfortable on the court.
Magee: What do you enjoy most about being part of the program?
TS: The biggest part of the wheelchair basketball program for me is being around others that truly understand my daily struggle. Wheelchair basketball gives me a sense of belonging and comfort when I am competing. Not only does it help with my confidence, the program also works as a network of knowledge. I immediately have 20+ people (my teammates) that have answers to any question I may pose as a “newbie” in the disabled community.
Magee: What do you want to do when you finish your degree?
TS: In the spring I will begin my MBA. My dream job is to one day be an air traffic controller based out of Philadelphia International Airport.