Being in a wheelchair has never gotten in the way of Jared Arambula of being an athlete.
Even with all of his basketball accomplishments, it's been an ongoing crusade for the Wheeler graduate to prove himself.
"I had a couple friends come down and watch me play and it's become a respected sport to them," Arambula said. "It's something I've strived for, for them to say the most athletic guy is the one in a wheelchair."
Last month, Arambula led the University of Alabama to the wheelchair basketball national title, using a 17-0 run in the last five minutes to pull away from top-ranked Texas-Arlington and win 71-52 in the finals.
"They really had no answer for us," Arambula said. "We knew, when we wanted to be, we were the best defensive team in the country."
Arambula poured in 21 points and earned all-American honors for the fifth time in as many years.
"It's been five years of work, going from worst to first. It was a special feeling to be rewarded at the end," he said. "I never thought five years ago that I'd be in this situation. There were way better wheelchair basketball schools, but none where I would've had this experience. Now I've had this experience and we've won. It's very much validating. So many people have done so much for me."
When coach Miles Thompson recruited Arambula to Tuscaloosa, it was comparable to IU signing Cody Zeller. The Crimson Tide was a fledgling program and Arambula gave it instant credibility, not to mention a pipeline to other top talent.
"Getting Jared infinitely changed the culture of how the sport was viewed on campus and by other high school players," Thompson said. "From the day he entered the program, he was a lightning rod with his desire, athleticism and how hard he competes. It was infectious right away."
Born with spina bifida, Arambula has a disability level (2.5) that falls in the middle of the scale (1 to 4.5). Thompson said the development of his 3-point shot and marked progress in his free throw shooting, coupled with his defensive tenacity, enabled Arambula to function like a 4.5.
"He plays so hard, so unafraid," Thompson said. "The drive he can find within himself can not be quantified on a scoreboard."
At a school known for its national titles, including women's wheelchair hoops championship, the men's team's success didn't go unnoticed. Arambula was taken aback when a member of the Crimson Tide football team congratulated him.
"I don’t know how he would know, but for him to take the time to point me out, it was kind of cool," he said. "There's no comparison with the football team, but I didn't expect it to be the big deal that it was."
Speaking of big deals, Arambula has one summer class left to earn his degree in elementary education. He eventually hopes to move back to this area to teach — the South is too hot for him — but he's got some basketball still to play, starting with a tryout for the 2016 U.S. Paralympic team next month in Colorado Springs. Thompson thinks he'll make it, rating Arambula as the best player at his position.
"I'm excited for the opportunity," Arambula said. "I want to win a gold medal for the U.S. team. That would be awesome."
The 23-year old will also head to Germany to play professionally in September.
Every day, Arambula continues to be an inspiration, on and off the court, both for those in wheelchairs and those who are not.
"As cliché as it sounds, it's about putting your mind to doing something, staying mentally strong on a day-to-day basis," Arambula said. "My day-to-day's a little rougher. Maybe I can send a message to other people."
Loud and clear.