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Coach Luis Amaro with his wheelchair basketball team.
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Coach Amaro Talks about the Benefits of Adaptive Sports


Editor’s Note: At the age of 21, Luis Amaro was shot at several times while fending off two men who were attempting to rape his sister. One of the bullets hit his spinal cord injuring the T10 and T11 vertebrae. His sister was safe, but Amaro would spend the next few months at Jackson Memorial Hospital recovering and learning to adapt to his new life as a paraplegic. It didn’t take him long to get back to living, though. Just months after his injury, he joined a wheelchair basketball team. Successfully adapting his game from a standing to sitting position led to a 17-year career in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Since retiring, he gives back to the sport as a volunteer coach for the Fort Lauderdale Junior Sharks, the first NWBA-sanctioned juniors team in the state of Florida. Wheel:Life talked to Amaro about the benefits of getting involved in adaptive sports after injury.

Coach Luis and young player, Ben.

Getting On with Life

I was very active before my injury. I played baseball, basketball, football, and participated in track and field in high school.

My legs were truly missed when I was shot.

Recovering from my injury was difficult, but I come from a very big, positive family. If I told you I never got depressed, I’d be lying to you, but their support, as well as having a great team of clinicians at Jackson Memorial Hospital, helped me accept the Luis at a race with his hand up in the air celebrating.situation pretty quickly. I got my driver’s license just three months after my injury while I was still in rehab. When I got out of the hospital, my driving instructor offered me a job at her office which allowed me to get back into the community right away.

Peer Mentoring

Shortly after I finished rehab, the psychologist from Jackson Memorial asked me to talk to a new patient who had the same injury. That’s how I initially got involved with peer mentoring, and I still do it today. I go to the hospital and talk to newly injured people. I follow them for three months and give the doctors a weekly report on how they are adjusting.

Providing the people I mentor with resources on support groups and adaptive sports programs is important as well.

Playing Adaptive Sports

Playing adaptive sports was my way out of depression. I got involved with the Miami Heat Wheels basketball team while I was still an inpatient when the coach came to the hospital to recruit. I thought wheelchair basketball sounded fun but difficult at the same time. Once I tried it out, I ended up loving it and meeting so many great people. Being involved in adaptive sports is amazing. It can take your mental state from depressive to being the happiest person ever.

Luis Amaro at the Wings for Life World Run with some of his players.

When I got on the court in a wheelchair for the first time, I looked up and wondered how I was supposed to shoot the ball all the way up to the basket. I was 6’3″ when I was standing. Now, I’m four foot something. It was very hard to adjust, but I had a great coach who taught me everything I needed to know. We practiced a ton, and I gave many years of hard work, determination, and discipline.

I played wheelchair basketball for 17 years: 15 with the Miami Heat Wheels and 2 with the Fort Lauderdale Sharks. From 2005-2015, we went to nationals every year. I got to travel to so many places. After a long run, I retired a couple of years ago because of shoulder injuries and my age catching up.

Becoming a Coach

Throughout the 10 years that I went to the national championships as a player, the juniors tournament was always happening at the same time. When the team would have downtime between games, everyone else would head back to the hotel to rest, but I would go watch the juniors games. I enjoyed seeing the way they interacted with each other. When they would make a basket, they’d celebrate as if they’d won the national championship.

It was so amazing to see one of them score knowing that it very well could have changed that kid’s life forever.

Luis on the basketball court coaching his players.

When I came over to play for the Fort Lauderdale Sharks, I was asked if I wanted to help start a juniors program and coach it. I told them, “Yeah, I would love to coach!” I wanted to volunteer my time and teach these kids all that I had learned over the years.

We started by going to Dynamic Orthopedics to talk to them about wheelchair basketball and see if there was interest. Right away, six kids signed up. Today, not even two years later, we’re up to 13 kids. They range from age 5 to 13, and they all play on the same team together. The little ones learn how to keep up with the big kids. We currently have 2 girls and 11 boys.

My wife is my assistant coach. She’s my equipment manager, and she pushes the kids. If she sees someone struggling, she’ll pull them aside and talk them through it. She’s also really good with tools, so she can take a chair apart and put it back together if repairs are needed. She’s amazing!

Coaching the Fort Lauderdale Junior Sharks has been the best thing I’ve ever done.

Some of the Fort Lauderdale Juniors wheelchair basketball players flexing their biceps.

Life Lessons through Sports

I try to teach the kids to be as independent as possible. The first thing I tell them every year is that I’m not there to baby them.

I’m there to help them become young men and women.

I’m there to teach them the sport of wheelchair basketball and see them transition to the next division as they get older. Teaching them responsibility is important. They shouldn’t be blaming their parents when they forget their uniform, for example.

Luis holding up a t-shirt that reads, "Repeat after me: Yes, coach."

The National Wheelchair Basketball Association

The Fort Lauderdale Junior Sharks was the first juniors team in the state of Florida to be sanctioned by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. We have also motivated a few other cities to get involved. Jacksonville has a sanctioned team now, and Tampa and Orlando are working on theirs. When that happens, we will be able to have local tournaments. Currently, we have to travel to nearby states for competitions which is expensive.

We are able to do it all through sponsors and fundraising. Our main donors are Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and Dynamic Orthopaedic who provides uniforms, basketballs, and some wheelchairs.

Life Outside of Basketball

My son is 21 years old, and we like to be active together. My shoulders can’t handle basketball anymore, but I still do hand cycling marathons and row. That’s where my time is spent. I also have a beautiful wife that I have to keep happy!

Luis Amaro with his son on the left and wife on the right.

The Benefits of Adaptive Sports

Adaptive sports have done so much for me. Getting involved with wheelchair basketball helped me with psychosocial skills and gave me a sense of camaraderie with my teammates. I met some great athletes and guys with crazy stories of how they got injured. Putting people on the court together who have gone through these tests of adversity makes for a great team. We can all relate to each other on some level, and we’ve learned how to push through hard times.

After being injured, a lot of people want to go home and stay inside, but that’s just going to make everything worse. I tell people I mentor that they need to pick an activity they love.

Don’t just try one activity, try several.

I’ve done sled hockey, mountain biking, rowing, hand cycling, archery, trap shooting, and so much more. I did it all with the idea that I would find something I loved. I discovered basketball which was my number one for a long time. Then, when I tried rowing, it became my ultimate love.

Luis with juniors team.

It Gets Easier

I live by these words: never, ever give up. It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. You’ll go through difficulties, and then you’ll learn how to get over them. I also tell people to focus on character over circumstances. Having a strong character will get you through anything.

When you’re experiencing tough times, try to find an outlet in something you love doing.

Get involved with something positive. It doesn’t matter if it’s school, work, or sports, but don’t stay home in bed and get depressed.

I also think it’s important to stay humble. Learn from this experience. You’re going to become humble if you weren’t already. You’re going to learn to be patient if you weren’t already. You’ll figure out who your real loved ones are.

Be careful who you get involved with because not everyone in a chair is a good person. Some individuals are going to be bitter for life, and they’re going to want to drag someone down with them. Involve yourself with positive people and things, and you’ll be okay.

The junior sharks and staff group shot.

Editor’s Note: Follow Luis Amaro and the Fort Lauderdale Junior Sharks as they prepare for their upcoming season on Facebook: @ftljrsharks. If your child is interested in playing, reach out to juniorsharksbasketball@gmail.com

For adults in the Fort Lauderdale area looking to play wheelchair basketball, information can be found at ftlsharks.com. The team is open to all genders. 

To find a team in your area, head over to nwba.org/findateam.

All information in this article was extracted from an interview with Luis Amaro. 

About the Author

betsy-bailey-headshot

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also practices parkour, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

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Building Strength and Confidence with Handi Capable Fitness

Editor’s Note: A botched hernia operation during infancy left James ...

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Comfort Medical Sponsors Freedom Concepts to Help You Win An Adaptive Bike

Have you always dreamt of gliding down the street with the wind in ...

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Experience It All At the Abilities Expo!

Days are becoming shorter, nights longer, and the holiday season is ...

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ParaSportsLive: Bringing Adaptive Sports Coverage to the World

Editor’s Note:  When wheelchair user Tony Jackson’s original ...

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Introducing the New Cure Ultra Coude Intermittent Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra® Coude ...

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Get Ready for Rolling With Me’s Each By Name Conference

Wheel:Life, Comfort Medical, and Rolling With Me is excited to ...

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Smooth Sailing with David Gaston

Editor’s Note:  A Texas coast native, David Gaston has been in and ...

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Gain Traction This Fall with National Ramp

Summer is officially over and dreary winter weather is on its way. ...

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Wheelchair Dancers Organization Says Everybody Can Dance!

When life-long dancer Beverly Weurding was diagnosed with limb-girdle ...

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Pursuing Health and Happiness with Malaise Wheelchair Fitness

Editor’s Note: Justin Malaise grew up in small-town Wisconsin as a ...

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Former Ms. Wheelchair Illinois Continues to be a Voice for the Community

Editor’s Note: Born with spina bifida, Kim Brown has been a ...

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Dare to Discover the World of Accessible Travel With Handiscover

Editor’s Note: Sebastien Archambeaud has always loved traveling, so ...

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Made for Kids! The Pediatric Hydrophilic Cure Catheter + Free Backpack Program

Parents only want what’s best for their children and keeping them ...

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Wheeling, Driving, Bowling, Preaching, Parenting…Johnny Hudson Does It All Hands-free!

Editor’s Note: Johnny Hudson was born in 1977 with unforeseen ...

Pat Dougherty explains FreeWheel to a new fan at a recent Abilities Expo.
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The Abilities Expo is Coming To Boston!

Boston awaits with open arms. This September 8–10, head over to the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Change Starts with You – Becoming an Advocate

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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WheelchairTravel.org: Blazing the Trail Towards an Accessible World  

Editor’s Note: After sustaining severe burns during a car accident ...

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The Artfully Gifted Foundation – Serving Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: The Artfully Gifted Foundation (a non-profit) was ...

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How the SCRS-IL Can Help You Live Independently

Editor’s Note: When triple degree holder Jose Gonzalez returned ...

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Peter Arballo Never Gave Up on Himself — Neither Should You

Editor’s Note: Peter Arballo was born in Southern California to ...

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Full Speed Ahead with Endurance Racer Michael Johnson

Editor’s Note: Michael Johnson of Lansing, Michigan, started racing ...

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The Extraordinary Life of Triple Amputee Monica Vickers

Editor’s Note: Monica Vickers was born in 1954 missing both legs ...

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Rick Hayden Rolls on Capitol Hill for Your Rights

When Rick Hayden visited the US Capitol last week, he went with your ...

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Gear Up for Abilities Expo Chicago

Calling all Midwesterners — Abilities Expo is coming to Chicago! As ...

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Run, Jump, and Throw Stuff with Angel City Sports

Editor’s Note: Clayton Frech is the CEO and founder of Los ...

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Sled Hockey with Coach Koz

Editor’s Note: Sled hockey (also known as sledge hockey) is almost ...

Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL
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Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL

Editor’s Note: Mary Marshall, founder of STYLEDWEL, created ...

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Following Your Inner Guidance with Kristina Rhoades and How National Ramp is Helping Her Do It

Editor’s Note: Kristina Rhoades is a mom, wife, speaker, writer, ...

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Comfort Conversations: Finding Encouragement Through Peer Support Groups

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Allen Beauchamp on Life, Love and Hockey

My name is Allen Beauchamp, and I’m 43 years old. I live in a ...

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Yoocan Get Empowered!

Editor’s Note: Inspired by a family member with disabilities, Moshe ...

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Introducing the Cure Ultra: Ready to Use Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra™ Intermittent ...

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Refuel and Rejuvenate At Abilities Expo New York Metro

East coasters, or anyone within striking distance, gear up for ...

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Criptaedo: Breaking Boards and Barriers

Editor’s note: Paul Brailer, aka Criptaedo, was born with spina ...

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Rolling Forward with Amputee Advocate Stella Sieber

I’m currently 63 years old and live in Durham, North Carolina. ...

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Stroke by Stroke: Moving Forward with Mallory Weggemann

Editor’s Note: At 18 years old, Mallory Weggemann walked into the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Finding Your New Normal After a Spinal Cord Injury

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Glenn Moscoso: Wheelchair Daddy

Editor’s note:  Glenn Moscoso is a husband and father living with ...

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Avoiding Slippery Slopes with Garth Walker and National Ramp

Editor’s Note: After selling his prior business, Garth Walker went ...

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The National Sports Center for the Disabled: Finding Self-Confidence through Personal Challenge

Editor’s Note: The National Sports Center for the Disabled, founded ...

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Wheeling around the World with Susie Twydell

Editor’s Note: Based in England, Susie Twydell, an avid traveler ...

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Amplitude Media Group: Closing the Information Gap

Wheel:Life is thrilled to announce their newest community partner, ...

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Accessible Hiking, Camping and Fishing? WOW!  

Editor’s Note: Wilderness on Wheels (WOW) is a foundation and a ...

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Comfort Conversations: Events, Free Packs, and More with James “Woody” Beckham

Editor’s Note: The Woody Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ...

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Jenn Sexton Shares Her Secret for Independence: An Extra Long Cure Catheter

Jenn Sexton was five weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Thomas, ...

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Glen Schlotterbeck: Reinvent Yourself!

Editors note: As a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Glen ...

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Educate, Energize, and Enlighten at Abilities Expo Los Angeles

The Abilities Expo is back in Los Angeles and gearing up to show you ...

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Juan Sebastian Betancourt: Changing the Way Businesses Serve People with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: Juan Betancourt is on a path to change the world for ...

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AccessibleIndonesia: Making Travel Accessible in a Non-Accessible Country

Editor’s note: Kerstin Beise, a German physiotherapist, who also ...

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A Lesson on Living Life to the Fullest with Hydred Makabali

Editor’s note: Hydred Makabali, born and raised in England and now ...

Up/Down Team Champions (Top L to R) Shane Hayden, Harold Collins (Seated L to R) Gary Bowling, Kenneth Hill, and Don Law
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Knocking Down The Pins of Life with Wheelchair Bowling Champion Kenneth Hill

Editor’s Note: Fifty-year-old Kenneth Hill from Plainfield, ...

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Take Your Wings and Fly with Denise Horn

Editor’s Note: Fifty-six-year-old Denise Horn of Janesville, ...

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Ashley Hutson Wilson Beat a Small Chance of Survival to Live a Full Life

Editor’s Note: Thirty-one year old Ashley Hutson Wilson from Kyle, ...

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Jam with Mel Bergman: Creator of Wheely Guitars

Editor’s Note: Mel Bergman of Camarillo, California, is the ...

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Gary “Tiger” Balletto: Champion Prize Fighter Who Rolls with the Punches

Editor’s Note: You can capture a ferocious wild tiger and put him ...

9 Robby Heisner
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Meet Robby Heisner: Creative Entrepreneur on Wheels

Editor’s Note: Robby Heisner of Smyrna, Georgia ...

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The National Rifle Association’s Adaptive Shooting Program with Dr. Joseph Logar

Dr. Joseph Logar Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph Logar has his doctorate ...

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The Rollettes Take On an E.P.I.C. Project to Empower Others

Editor’s Note: Chances are, you’ve seen these ladies ...

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Speak Up Now to Save Your Wheelchair: Fight Medicare Cuts

Your window is narrowing to preserve access to mobility equipment – ...

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Go Further Together with GRIT: Stories of Community Support

Our friends at GRIT, the makers of the revolutionary Freedom Chair, ...

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Paralyzed Veteran’s Mom Awarded Dream Trip by ElDorado Mobility

Editor’s Note: Serving our country as a military service member is ...

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Wheelchair Karate: Attack the Attacker with Kenneth Perry

Editor’s Note: Kenneth Perry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...

5 Tom Cannalonga
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Ditch Your Chair to Sit-Ski the Slopes with Tom Cannalonga 

Editor’s Note: Fifty-two-year-old Tom Cannalonga lives in Edison, ...

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Welcome to Wheel:Life

We are so glad you’re here! Wheel:Life is a global initiative ...

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