Mike Schlappi's wheelchair athletic career started to take shape when he was still in the hospital. Mike Johnson, himself a world-class wheelchair athlete, heard about the promising junior high athlete being paralyzed by an accidental gunshot and wanted to make sure Schlappi knew that sports were still open to him.
"That was one of the things that really helped," Schlappi's mother, Pat, says now.Ten years later, Schlappi will play basketball for the U.S. team this week in the 1988 Seoul Paralympics in Seoul, using the same facilities as the able-bodied athletes.
More than 4,000 athletes from 60 countries are expected to compete in 30 events during the 11-day meet, complete with opening and closing ceremonies.
"As it gets closer and closer, it gets pretty exciting," says Schlappi, 25.
A former studentbody president at Orem's Mountain View High and a BYU graduate, Schlappi is one class short of his master's degree in business at Arizona State and is already an ASU faculty member, teaching liberal arts.
His wheelchair basketball career started with the Utah Rimriders and really took off when he joined the Arizona Wildchairs, a Tucson-based team that plays in a league with southern California teams.
Married with one child, Schlappi was one of 30 players invited to the Olympic trials in Alabama this summer and made the 12-man squad.
"I just kind of realized I was as good as everybody else," he says.
Noting that the Paralympics may be held at the same time as the able-bodied Games in Bracelona in 1992, Schlappi figures this could just be the first of several Olympic appearances for him.
And the U.S. team will be the gold-medal favorite this fall in competition against more than 20 other teams.
Once a highly-ranked wheelchair tennis player, Schlappi now is concentrating on basketball, always his favorite sport.
"It's pretty much the same game," he says of the wheelchair version, in which players employ specialized, lightweight chairs.
And the Olympic experience will add to the Schlappi story, already a favorite in Utah Valley.
When Mike was attending local schools, he was in such demand as a youth/motivational speaker that, says his mother, "It got kind of out of hand."
Schlappi's usual message: "I'm just a normal guy."
All of which seemed difficult to remember when he was injured.
"At the time, it was the most traumatic thing . . . it all depends how you look at things," says Pat Schlappi. "It's been an example to us."