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“People need people, and PVA is one of the best organizations to help do that by connecting and reaching out to Veterans and support groups for Veteran families.”

Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Air Force Veteran Michael dreamed of becoming a professional athlete someday. After joining the Air Force and becoming paralyzed from the waist down, nothing – and everything – has changed.

As a senior in high school, Michael didn’t have a firm plan of what to do next. When his twin brother Alex began attending development sessions with a local Air Force recruiting office, Michael was intrigued. Alex and Michael trained together, signed contracts together and shipped out to basic training in San Antonio on the same day.

Michael eventually made it through the arduous combat control selection process and began dive training. It was June of 2020 – just a few months into the global COVID-19 pandemic and two weeks before his 21st birthday.

“In the fifth week or sixth week of dive training is when I actually broke my neck,” Michael said. “Someone pulled me out of the water and that was the last time I saw some of those guys.”

Michael doesn’t remember much of the following weeks but ended up at the Shepherd Center Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit in Atlanta for three months. Unable to leave the center or hug his family due to lockdowns, Michael underwent months of inpatient care and rehabilitation.

“I like to call it the best prison that you could possibly get sent to because honestly, it was very, very locked down,” Michael said. “If you leave, you can't come back, and you obviously want to stay to get as much done as you can. The Shepherd Center had regulations to follow and board members to listen to, so everything was kind of as tight as possible as far as lockdown.”

In the midst of all this isolation, Michael discovered a sport he had never tried or even considered before: rugby. Through physical therapy at the Shepherd Center, Michael met Talbott Kennedy, a former paralympic athlete, who convinced him to give wheelchair rugby a try. Talbot began to push and shove Michael, giving him a taste of the sport’s aggression and movement. For Michael, it was love at first shove.

“I was taken aback by it and shocked, but it was a great feeling,” Michael said. “From then on I was kind of like, ‘How do I get more into this? This seems like what I would love to do.’”

Feeling inspired and motivated, Michael trained for wheelchair rugby for the rest of the year. By October of that year, he was competing in any wheelchair rugby events and clinics he could.

“Before the injury, when I was done with high school sports, I was devastated because I would never do organized sports again – or so I thought. Then I went into the military and I found another great group of guys and a brotherhood that I thought I was going to be with for two, maybe three decades, and that ended up falling short, too,” Michael said. “Finding something with a great bunch of guys who all want the same thing and are pursuing a goal as intensely as they are, it's something really cool that you just don't find too many places. I love the fact that I was able to find it so early on.”

Since discovering wheelchair rugby, Michael has trained at clinics and competed in tournaments all over the country, including PVA events like the Wheelchair Rugby Invitational in Louisville, Kentucky, in January 2024.

“PVA was very special in that I didn't have to do much and they kind of took care of whatever I needed,” Michael said. “I feel lucky that I'm one of the guys who gets to start out so young and receive so many of the benefits so early on, while I still have able muscles and joints that aren't crackling. I'm looking forward to seeing way more younger guys than me in the future come in and just attack everything that PVA has to offer and build the wheelchair community and make it more prevalent as a whole.”

Despite his injury, Michael’s childhood dreams are now closer than ever to coming true. With the help of his coach, his team, and organizations like PVA, Michael plans to continue training and competing until he reaches the top: the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team.

At just 24 years old, there’s no telling how far his rugby career could go. He believes that, thanks to advances in medicine, we will see more young people living with paralysis in the future. He hopes to see more young people and their families getting involved with everything PVA has to offer over the course of their lifetimes.

“At the end of the day, it's a tool to connect people,” Michael said. “And especially after COVID, and especially with all the new technology that's coming out with medicine in terms of longevity of living life, people need people, and PVA is one of the best organizations to help do that by connecting and reaching out to Veterans and support groups for Veteran families.”

Want to learn more about PVA’s wheelchair rugby program? Please reach out to Sports and Recreation Program Coordinator Katelynn Johnson at (202) 416-7637 or

Learn more about PVA’s adaptive sports on our website at


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