PHOENIX – Wheels grinded against the concrete before reaching a halt as two wheelchairs collided. Upon sacking the opposing quarterback, one man let out a thunderous celebratory scream.
Danny Fik, an offensive lineman and defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs of the USA Wheelchair Football League, made the phenomenal defensive play to help shut out the Los Angeles Rams, 7-0, in Wednesday’s championship game at Camelback Ranch.
The big moment offered a glimpse into Fik’s inspirational athletic career in wheelchair sports, but the 38-year-old overcame more than a few offensive linemen to make the sack.
Fik’s initial athletic outlook was limited after the Highland, California native was born with a form of spina bifida called tethered cord syndrome, which impairs his walking. His father, Doug, carried Fik everywhere because he struggled to walk with leg braces. At only 13, Fik’s life would change forever.
After undergoing a third surgery on his spinal cord, Fik was paralyzed from the waist down.
“I was down,” Fik said. “Obviously I was disabled prior to the surgery, but then it became real. I couldn’t walk anymore. Everything I knew, I felt like it was taken away from me.”
Fik visited the Abilities Expo – which aims to bridge the gap between ability and disability – in Pasadena, California and left with a new perspective. There, he was exposed to wheelchair athletics and a light switched on as Fik realized success in life still was attainable.
“Finding sports and finding custom wheelchairs was really a game changer,” Fik said. “Immediately, my perspective on my situation changed. Everything I had was not important to me. It was what I had now. You got to look at the glass half full as opposed to half empty.”
Fik’s athletic career took off after the mental shift. He started playing tennis, hockey and basketball in high school. His excellent play on the hardwood ultimately landed him a full-ride scholarship to the University of Texas at Arlington to play basketball.
Some athletes have special skills that propel them to greatness in any sport, and for Fik, his blazing speed in a wheelchair sets him apart no matter the sport.
“When Danny started playing, he was so fast that it was clear he was going to be something special because he was so fast,” Doug said. “He struggled to walk all of his life but once he got in the chair, he was free to go as fast as he wanted to go. It was a blessing because now he was free to do what he wanted to do and he is faster than anybody else.”
The odds of landing a free ride in sports are extremely rare. According to the NCAA, only 1% of athletes receive a full-ride scholarship, which is a true testament to Fik’s character and skill.
“It just shows anything is possible if you want it badly enough,” Fik’s mother, Debbie, said. “It’s so inspiring to see what he can do, and it just inspires you to do better. He is just so determined.”
Despite being in a wheelchair, Fik is a naturally gifted individual. Fik’s strong physical traits, along with his love for sports, are what make him so successful.
The opportunity to play basketball at a major university was a huge accomplishment, but Fik only scratched the surface of his potential. He earned a spot on the USA national team for wheelchair tennis and was an alternate during the London Paralympics on the wheelchair basketball team.
“I’m just a sports guy,” Fik said. “I have always loved to play sports. It’s a blast. God blessed me with some physical ability.”
Fik is most certainly a “sports guy.” He not only currently plays in the USAWFL, but he is also a member of the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks in the NWBA, on top of his duties as an operation manager at Per4Max, a company that manufactures custom wheelchairs.
Each passing day, Fik continues to defy the odds. He succeeds in balancing his athletic career and professional life, and makes family time for his wife, Lisa, and stepson, Elliot. Fik’s countless endeavors are more impressive considering the obstacles he had to overcome throughout his life.
“Danny is the number one person to remind you that it doesn’t matter what kind of adversity you have in your life,” Lisa said. “Whatever happens to you, you can always do anything you put your mind to.”
Playing sports in a wheelchair is no easy task. It takes time and effort to master the art of using a wheelchair in competitive sports. However, “impossible” is just a word, especially for Fik as he continues to learn new skills daily with wheelchair sports.
“You’re going to miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” Fik said. “So if you don’t try to play sports, you don’t know if you love it or if you are good at it. Keep working at it if you have an interest in it. It doesn’t come naturally. I’ve been playing wheelchair sports for the last 25 years and I’m still refining my skills.”
For some people, sports is just a game, but for others, it is so much more. The power of sports helped Fik turn around his life for the better, and it will continue to do so for young kids and adults following in his path.
“Playing sports, winning, competing and even losing sometimes builds character,” Fik said. “Sports is everything to me. It got me a scholarship, it helped me gain confidence and it got me to meet so many awesome people. Just the opportunity sports has given me is unbelievable.”