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Never-give-up attitude leads Crown Point grad Zoe Voris to Paralympics
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Never-give-up attitude leads Crown Point grad Zoe Voris to Paralympics

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Zoe Voris can walk.

It’s important to emphasize that because when the 22-year-old was born with spina bifida, her parents were told that would likely never happen.

“Doctors told us she wouldn’t be able to walk the rest of her life and would be in an wheelchair,” Zoe’s mom, Christine McElroy, said.

One of those doctor statements remains true. Voris is in a wheelchair most of the time, but not because she has to.

Voris worked hard as a young child to use her legs like everyone else and willed herself to walk.

“She had braces on her legs and played YMCA soccer when she was 9 years old,” McElroy said. “She tried to keep up, but it was utterly exhausting for her. So she asked if she could try basketball and she loved it.”

But exhaustion was still a theme, so another option presented itself a year later when they ran into some members of the Hammond Rollin Hoosiers wheelchair basketball team.

“I’ll never forget the smile on her face while playing in the wheelchair,” McElroy said. “I knew she had found where she belonged.”

Fast forward 12 years and Voris is smiling for another reason. She’s a member of Team USA’s women’s wheelchair basketball team competing halfway across the world in Japan at the 2020 Paralympics.

In between, Voris moved on from the Rollin Hoosiers to the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association (LWSRA) in New Lenox, Illinois, playing on women’s, men’s and co-ed teams before graduating from Crown Point High School. She now attends the University of Texas-Arlington and plays on its Lady Movin Mavs wheelchair team.

Making it to Japan wasn’t easy, but it was just another obstacle for Voris to conquer.

“I decided to try out after the coaching staff emailed a group of us and asked if we would come try out,” she said. “Because COVID pushed the Paralympics back a year, some athletes decided to retire and not come back. So that opened spots up for other people to try out. I was very hesitant about trying out because I didn't feel like I was ready for something this big and I wasn't training for something this big.”

The hesitancy didn’t last long. It was just a matter of working hard to achieve another lofty goal.

“I didn’t want to just be a road cone to the team because they have been preparing for years while I haven't been,” she said. “Saying yes to that tryout was one of the best decisions I've made. I've built amazing bonds with people on the team. They support me all the way. I love it. I'm having such a great time overall. I don't think there's been a time at trainings or here (in Japan) where I wasn't smiling or laughing. That's just how positive the energy is with this group.”

It’s similar to the way Voris felt in high school after deciding to coach a junior wheelchair team consisting of players around the same age when she started.

“Coaching kids was another great decision I made,” she said. “I started when I was 18 years old coaching a varsity team which consisted of kids between 11-18. After that I coached a prep team with even younger kids. I think the oldest was 13 and the youngest was maybe 7.

“I do what I do because of the kids I've coached and the kids I've met along the way while playing this sport. Being able to go to a tournament and have these young girls come up to me and genuinely want to have a conversation and hang out with me is amazing. Kids that I've coached talk about me in school to their friends and their teachers. It's the coolest feeling.”

McElroy remembers all the travel to tournaments to help lead Voris to be an inspiration to young kids and now representing the United States in the sport she loves. But when it comes to her daughter’s intestinal fortitude, mom won’t take any kudos for that.

“I’ve always supported Zoe, but she pushed herself and defied all the odds,” McElroy said. “I can’t take any credit. She never wanted to use the chair. She would walk herself into exhaustion, holding her crutches in the air. Now when she’s playing basketball, the chair is part of her that she loves being in.”

Voris and Team USA play their first game in Group B at 9 p.m. (Central time) on Tuesday against Netherlands. The Hobart Moose Lodge will be holding a watch party open to anyone who wants to support Voris and her new team.


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