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A wheelchair places no limits on what Abby Bauleke can achieve. Read about how she overcame a rare disorder to become a Paralympic athlete.
For as long as she can remember, University of Alabama adapted athlete Abby Bauleke has loved basketball. She spent hours and hours on the sidelines watching her older siblings’ games, but never thought she could play. Just before her fifth birthday, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and during her treatment she became unable to walk. Her doctors said she had developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves.
Abby transitioned to using a wheelchair, but that wasn’t about to stop her dream of playing basketball. Her rebound came at age 11, when she attended local camps and was introduced to various adapted athletics. “I was thrilled,” says Abby. “I started playing on a wheelchair basketball team a year later and fell in love with the sport.”
From there, Abby joined her high school’s team. As a junior, she took home a gold medal as the youngest member competing for Team USA in the 2019 Under-25 World Championships in Thailand. After that there was no stopping her. When she applied for college, The University of Alabama was a slam-dunk. “I chose the University of Alabama because I knew they had the best adapted athletics program in the country, the best facilities, and the best people who would make me the best athlete I could be,” explains Abby.
One of Abby’s goals was to compete in the Paralympic Games. She tried out for Team USA and was named an alternate for both the 2019 and 2020 national teams. Then due to COVID-19 and the postponement of the Paralympic Games, she had another chance to try out in March of 2021 – and was named to Team USA in July! “University of Alabama Adapted Athletics was so supportive throughout the entire process and provided all the resources I could have possibly needed to get to that point,” says Abby. “It was so fun hearing everyone tell me how much I had improved in the past year and knowing it was because of them.”
Abby considers self-confidence to be her greatest personal challenge. However, the more she practiced and put in the work, the more her confidence blossomed. It all paid off, and Abby and her Team USA mates came home from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics (held in autumn of 2021) with a bronze medal! She credits the win to all the support from her encouraging teammates and the expert coaches at the University of Alabama. “I love how this program is really a family – they make moving across the country, or even across the world for some of our athletes, so much easier because all the people here are so welcoming and loving,” says Abby. “I have met so many friends that will now be part of my life forever.”
Watching Abby play, you’ll see how much she loves the game by her constant smile. “I have a lot of fun when I’m on the court,” she admits. “People always tell me I have to stop smiling all the time when I’m out there.” Abby has a lot to smile about – she’s going to the school of her dreams, and to places that little girl on the sidelines never could have imagined.
It’s no surprise that this Human Development and Family Studies major plans on going even further in life as a Child Life Specialist working with kids and families with disabilities. And she has found that using products like the VaPro Plus Pocket™ catheter have increased her independence and confidence – two qualities she hopes to pass on to the kids she works with in the future.
“I learned a lot from the whole Paralympic process,” says Abby. “But the main thing I learned was how to adapt, keep pushing forward, and not let anything stop you from achieving your goals.”
Abby Bauleke hails from Savage, Minnesota. She’s a freshman at the University of Alabama and is on the University of Alabama Adapted Athletics women’s wheelchair basketball team. In addition to playing basketball, Abby is an avid swimmer and was captain of the Burnsville High School girls swim team in 2020.
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