In a recent wheelchair basketball tournament in Portland, Ore., Stansbury Park teenager Marshall Lindsay stole the show with performances that garnered him the Most Valuable Player award.
Lindsay, part of the Salt Lake area’s Rec ‘N Crew wheelchair basketball team, won the MVP award while helping his team win second place at the regional tournament, which qualified the team as Utah’s representative for a national tournament in Louisville, Ky., in April.
Lindsay started playing wheelchair basketball as part of his physical therapy after an accident nearly paralyzed him for life.
In 2009, Lindsay hurt himself in an ATV accident while riding on the sand dunes in Little Sahara Recreation Area in Fillmore.
“It was my first time out,” Lindsay said. “It started to get dark, and I couldn’t really see. We went over the top of a sand dune, and the idea is to stay on top. I happened to slide down because it was my first time, and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing.”
He lost track of the people he was riding with and drove out to find them after sliding down one of sand dunes. He spotted one of his friends and tried to catch up.
“I didn’t want to get left behind,” Lindsay said. “I sped up a little too quick and went over the same hill my friend just did. As soon as I got up and over it, I realized I was going a little too fast. I jumped the hill and at the bottom was a 40-foot drop.”
Lindsay crashed but didn’t remember the crash. He woke up afterward in the sand and he felt intense pain in his back. The other riders in the group were standing over him when he woke up asking if he was OK. Lindsay started to feel better so he tried to get up. He held out his arms for the others to help him up, but when they helped him a vertebrae popped out of place.
“What I didn’t know was that my back was actually broken,” he said. “So I was paralyzed from the waist down.”
He spent 31 days at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, and then the rest of his recovery time was slow.
“The original prognosis was that I would never walk again,” Lindsay said. “At the time, that was devastating to me. I spent my whole life playing sports. I played them all, and then to realize I’m not going to have the use of my legs was pretty devastating.”
Slowly but surely and through hundreds of hours of physical therapy, Lindsay started walking again.
“It was the hardest six months of my life,” he said.
Today, his left leg has still never quite fully healed so he walks with a limp, and it’s exhausting for him to walk long distances. Because of this, when he’s at school or going to the mall, Lindsay uses his wheelchair.
During his recovery period, his therapist suggested he try playing wheelchair basketball as a means of mental recovery.
“My mentality of sports was completely different,” he said. “I had a very stereotypical view of what wheelchair sports would be.”
Lindsay’s desire to play sports outweighed his hesitation, and he decided to try wheelchair basketball. He attended an open gym practice for the Rec ‘N Crew and fell in love with the sport.
“It was completely different than I expected it to be,” he said. “Everybody was moving at speeds I didn’t think was possible in a wheelchair, doing things I didn’t know were possible and doing things I couldn’t do.”
Julie Lindsay, Marshall’s mother, said the injury was devastating to the family, especially because there was so much uncertainty concerning if he’d be able to walk again. But once Marshall picked up wheelchair basketball, everything changed.
“He started to smile,” she said. “I was a little skeptical, and he was too, but we got out to that first practice and he was smiling again. He knew he had something he could do. Sports are not over for him.”
Marshall didn’t have early success and noticed how much of a transition it would be to play basketball in a wheelchair.
“Everybody there knew exactly what they were doing,” he said. “At the time I thought I could do this pretty well, but now, three years from then, I realize how much I didn’t know. I started off really slow. I couldn’t make a free throw or shoot the ball from a wheelchair.”
Through practice and hard work, Marshall learned the sport and became one of the best. The biggest adjustment for him was learning to do everything with only his upper-body rather than getting to use his legs to jump and follow through with his shooting motion.
The physicality of the sport was something he loved to see, and it helped him feel right at home.
“It’s a very, very physical game,” he said. “It’s as physical as you can get in any sport without going over the top.”
Julie said the lessons Marshall has learned during this process have meant so much more than they could have hoped.
“I think the walking part is a bonus,” Julie said. “What he’s learned in the process, and what we’ve learned, is that it’s not the disability, but the abilities you have. It’s what you can do with what you have.”
Julie said everyone is just happy to still have him and that the accident could have ended much worse. She said they’re happy Marshall is still in their lives, and wheelchair basketball has brought normalcy back to his life.
When it came to Marshall’s strong play at the Oregon tournament, he was humble about his efforts and gave all the credit to his teammates for doing well and helping him earn the MVP award.
“I felt like my team had a very good tournament,” he said. “As far as me being the MVP, I wouldn’t be anywhere without my team. A lot of my success comes from my team. I don’t necessarily score a lot [on my own], but I score through my team.”
As the Rec ‘N Crew prepare for the tournament in Louisville, Marshall said the players have all been working on speed and agility in practices. He said even if he and his teammates turn out to not be the best at the national tournament, they will definitely be in the best shape.
Tooele County has three other wheelchair athletes who compete on the Rec ‘N Crew’s prep squad, which is the team the main team practices against. The other athletes are Kyle Blake, Nathan Hunter and Tucker Rady.