Connor Downes has long understood the value of teamwork. Growing up, he loved playing baseball. He watched his father run a family business. But it wasn’t until he joined a wheelchair basketball team that he saw a whole new side to the benefits of working together toward a common goal.
Downes, BS BA ’13, has no problem walking. But he was born with a foot abnormality commonly known as clubfoot. Although he had surgery to repair it as a baby, in the eighth grade he began to suffer from muscle deterioration that made one of his legs weaker than the other. Eventually, he was no longer able to play baseball.
Soon Downes joined his brother, who had been born with spina bifida, in a sport he has come to love.
After playing in high school, Downes played on the wheelchair basketball team at Mizzou until 2013. Now he's welcoming the sport’s biggest college event to Mizzou. The 2015 National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament runs March 5-7 in Brewer Fieldhouse.
“I love the fact that it’s coming to my house, to Mizzou, even though I’m not on the team anymore,” says Downes, who now serves as the facility coordinator at MizzouRec. “I’m pretty pumped that we have it this year.”
“You realize you’re in both worlds,” Downes says. “When I say I play wheelchair basketball, they give you that look, and then [I] have to explain my left leg is messed up.”
Downes says he works hard to change people’s perception of athletes with disabilities.
“The line isn’t so much ‘Look at those poor kids playing wheelchair basketball,’” Downes says. “It’s ‘Holy cow, this is a fast, action-packed game and fun to watch.’ ”
Downes has made lasting friendships in the wheelchair basketball community and at MizzouRec, where he worked as a student before joining the regular staff.
“I like working in teams, and teams work well toward a common goal,” Downes says. “It goes hand-in-hand with sports as well.”