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Utah Wheelin' Jazz players compete at 3-on-3 tourney

By Randall Wade

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 27 2011 9:45 p.m. MDT

At 21, Mangum was diagnosed with a curvature of the back known as scoliosis. At 28 he said he "suffered an injury related to scoliosis that has left me with nerve damage and numbness in my lower back and legs. I live each day with pain and weakness in my lower back and legs."

After practicing or playing a game, he will pop out of his chair and help those who don't have his type of mobility. For most able-bodied observers, it can be a somewhat jarring paradigm shift to witness as preconceived wheelchair perceptions are challenged.

Once everyone arrives, all the everyday chairs and sport chairs are stowed, Tetris-style, in the shell-covered bed of Mangum's truck. There's one long, rectangular-shaped space in the shell where a window used to be, but nobody's worried about the chairs flying out.

With everybody packed up, they're ready to exchange the warming Utah desert for the unfavorable Fahrenheit readings of Las Vegas, Death Valley and the Mojave Desert at the hottest parts of the day.

3:00 P.M. MST

The Wheelin' Jazz roll into St. George, Utah, to grab the camping trailer that they'll hitch to the back of Mangum's truck. The plan is to stay at a campground in landlocked Pomona, Calif., some 32 miles east of downtown L.A. where the games will be played. They have a game on Saturday at 9 a.m. and possibly the 8 a.m. early game on Sunday.

Mangum said the distance "won't be a problem."

If you've never been to LA, it'll be a problem.

It's not necessarily the distance that's the issue, it's all those cars they manage to pack onto those roads that tends to be the problem.

Someone mentions that there's another campground in Malibu, Calif., that's about the same distance from downtown where at least you'd have the beach to relax at while you watch the sunset melt into the water after pushing on pavement all day. Mangum says the plans have already been made.

10:00 P.M. MST

Finally, after 11 hours, the freeway signs are starting to announce Pomona for the next six exits. Mangum's truck makes its way off of I-10 and covers the short distance to the campground and their camping spot.

"It went by pretty quick," Mangum says. "We had a couple little problems with the truck. It kept wanting to overheat going up the hills. So that kept me occupied, trying to keep the temperature down, make sure everything was OK. We got to a certain point and we didn't have any problems with it anymore."

Now, let's not confuse this with a Boy Scout camping trip where there are tents to pitch and firewood to collect for that night's campfire. Mangum backs up and unhitches the camping trailer, slipping it into its spot among the multiple rows of RVs and trailers.

"It was kind of a fun ride. Yackin', telling jokes and having fun," Mangum continues. "It was long, but I enjoy it. I like to take road trips. It's fun for me, get to know the teammates a little better, have some laughs. It's good for me."

While the local time is an hour earlier, 9 p.m. PST, there's no wormhole that lets you skip that hour of travel. Eleven hours is 11 hours, no matter the time zone of the final destination.

"It was like I was flying to Europe, but only ended up in California," Griffin says. "We traveled (11) hours in that truck. It felt like I was in (coach seating) in the back of the plane just cramped with everyone else. I'm ready to be in my wheelchair right now. I didn't think I'd ever say that. I'm ready to be back in my wheelchair."

As all the guys pile out, they are more than ready to run around and stretch out their extremities, which brings up an interesting question:

Do you still feel the need to stretch your legs after a long drive?

Griffin and Lathem both smile and sort of chuckle when I ask that question. They are paralyzed form the waist down and have lost the everyday use of their legs.

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