Richland teen rolls with adversity

RICHLAND, Wash. - The basketball buzz couldn't be bigger around the undefeated Richland Bombers as they march toward a state title in Tacoma. But one basketball player from Richland is starting his own march - well, it's more of a roll.

At age 11, current Richland High School junior Asuanti Foner was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down and restricting him to a wheelchair. Now 17 years old, he has not allowed that to keep him from doing what he loves.

"I guess I'd marry it, I love it that much," said Asuanti Foner.

Before his disease, Asuanti was as active as any 11-year-old could be, playing football, baseball and, of course, basketball. After his diagnosis, Asuanti admits he went through depression, not wanting to leave his house - until he discovered ParaSport.

"It took a lot to convince Asuanti to be a part of sports and to open up these doors for him," said ParaSport Spokane Executive Director Teresa Skinner.

Teresa Skinner was one of the resources for Asuanti. She is the head of ParaSport Spokane, as well as the USA Olympic coach for wheelchair track and field.

"Wheelchair basketball, it helped me a lot. Now, I just have a smile on my face," said Foner.

With no wheelchair basketball league in the Tri-Cities, Asuanti has to travel to Spokane every weekend just to play, but he and his family say the drive and time are worth it.

"I don't like sitting on the sidelines, I hate it, it's boring. I can't do that," said Foner.

Asuanti explained this is not a spectator sport.

"A lot of aggressiveness. You hear chairs banging, you hear people falling, you hear a lot of yelling," said Foner.

"It is supposed to be incidental contact, but it is intense. They do go up on one wheel reaching for things; they do fall over," said Skinner.

Away from the court, doctors tell Asuanti there is a 50-50 chance he can walk again. He likes his odds.

"I can do that, I can probably get that 50 chance, but even if I don't, it doesn't really matter to me, because I can still have fun with life even in the chair," said Foner.

And for Asuanti, his message is clear: Whether your life is on your feet or in a chair, everyone should get to experience it.

"An athlete is an athlete. Doesn't matter if he is in a chair or she is in a chair or they have one leg missing, anything that is wrong with them, they're still an athlete," said Foner.