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

By Randall Wade

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

"You might find this ironic," Griffin starts, "but my legs were numb. It's not the same numbness as paralysis, but my left leg was numb and I was ready to get out and stretch. It's a weird sensation, it's hard to describe."

"Same," Lathem concurs. "After a while you can feel it's not the same. It's different. You can just feel something. You're like, 'OK, my legs are numb. I gotta get out of this truck. I'm paralyzed and my legs are numb, I've been here way too long.'"

And with that, Lathem pops-a-wheelie, imitates a spinning top by doing numerous circles in his chair and heads off to find a bathroom.

Griffin gets ready to follow Lathem's lead.

"I'm just glad that we're here and nothing happened," Griffin quips, looking at Mangum.

"Hey, you got here," Mangum retorts.

"That guy can do like five things at once," Griffin marvels. "I'm surprised. Every time you get into the truck, you put your life into his hands and amazingly, we've had no problems."

"He's got good hands," Blakely chimes in softly from the edge of the conversation.


Griffin rolls up to the camper door, stops and starts to rise out of his chair.

Fifteen years ago, he ruptured the L1 vertebrae in his spine and broke his back in three places when he fell more than 40 feet while painting a barn. He has not been able to walk since.

Doctors told him that he wouldnt walk again. I met Griffin seven years ago in the summer of 2004 and even then, some eight years after his accident, he told me I dont believe them.

He said it matter-of-factly, with a calm look in his eye that made you want to believe him, even if it was just because he believed.

What the doctors declared to be a medical impossibility, he has turned into a reachable dream by regaining feeling in parts of his legs and can now actually move around without the aid of crutches.

He reaches for the camper door. He is under his own power and pulls the latch of the door open, using it as a slight balancing tool. He lifts one leg up and places his foot on the first of three steps leading into the camper. He does the same with the left on the next step and again with the right until he's standing on the camper floor.

Imagine if someone tied a scarf around your knees so they were constricted and pigeoned inward, then asked you to walk. You could take steps forward on a limited basis with your feet swinging forward outside the framework of a normal stride.

He is standing upright and moves, crab-like, toward the back of the camper where his spot awaits his arrival. I asked him if he considers this to be walking.

"I consider it moving forward uprightly," he beams. "There will be a day where I walk and run and box out with my hips and not my wheelchair. But, um, until then, I've gained some mobility and learned how to move uprightly."

He credits his love of sports, his competitive athletic activity and belief in God with helping him recover from the accident.

Everybody is good enough to accomplish their dreams and goals, if they pay the price and just don't quit, he said. I think the only limitations people have are those they put upon themselves and those they allow others to put upon them.

Our conversation turns to the team and basketball.

"We've got a bunch of injured players playing on this 3- on-3," he says.

"It is wheelchair basketball," I remind him.

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