As a teenager Vanessa Erskine rarely backed down from a challenge. She spent many of her adolescent years trying new and exciting things. Her outgoing personality helped land her in dirt-filled arenas as a bullfighter, weekend after weekend. Vanessa excelled as a bullfighter and was invited to participate in larger rodeos which meant bigger, stronger, and more aggressive bulls. On April 30, 2011, after another rider was bucked off, Vanessa and two other bullfighters worked to move the bull to one of the exit gates. Without any warning, one of the rodeo workers opened another gate to the arena releasing a second bull into the pen. The second bull charged straight for Vanessa tossing her 30 feet into the air with its horns. The bull then trampled her before emergency crews could get to her.
Vanessa was diagnosed with a T4 complete spinal cord injury requiring her to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Four months later, Vanessa was ready to start outpatient medical rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City (RIKC). Her rehabilitation team included a physical therapist and occupational therapist. She also participated in the RIKC Driving Program. “Therapy was going great but I needed an outlet to feel normal again”, said Vanessa. During her sessions at RIKC she began talking to her therapists about recreational options available to her as an individual with paraplegia. Little did anyone know, a conversation about wheelchair basketball would influence the next 5 years of her life.
Vanessa started her basketball career by playing the game with her father in a church parking lot. Weeks later, she signed up for a wheelchair basketball camp to learn the basics and became hooked. In the spring of 2012, a year after her injury, Vanessa was accepted to the University of Wisconsin Whitewater (UW-Whitewater) to play on the women’s wheelchair basketball team. During her time at UW-Whitewater, she helped lead her team to not one, but two, NWBA collegiate titles! She also played for the USA in Argentina, at the 2013 Youth Parapan American Games. After graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education, she became more focused on her next goal as an athlete. She wanted to play for the Rio 2016 Paralympics women’s basketball team.
Vanessa moved to Germany with her boyfriend so she could continue to play basketball competitively on a professional team, BSC Rollers Zwickau. In May 2016, Vanessa got the news she made the U.S. women’s basketball team and would be heading to Rio in September. Since her accident Vanessa has never let using a wheelchair hold her back from reaching her goals. The Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City staff have been thrilled to follow her many accomplishments and wishing Vanessa good luck in Rio!