An amputee has found a new way to play the game she loves. Now, Ashley Green of Mackinaw aspires to help others who have encountered a disability.
Green founded the nonprofit called Your Excuse is Invalid. That tells you everything you need to know about the 28-year-old woman who had her right leg amputated below the knee after a series of surgeries, health complications and a car accident that derailed her athletic career. Sort of.
Green was a volleyball standout at Peoria Notre Dame High School and had designs on playing in college. She was also active in gymnastics, softball, track, snowboarding and surfing. But she suffered a series of ankle injuries and it snowballed from there.
“I was supposed to have a simple surgery. The surgery didn’t go as planned, so one surgery turned into eight surgeries over six years,” Green recalled. “Eventually, I was given the option of staying on crutches for the rest of my life or amputating (the leg) and eventually becoming an amputee, (get a) prosthetic and go through all that process.”
Green chose the latter, undergoing the amputation in 2015, nearly a decade after her downward health spiral began. But she wasn't about to give up on the sport she loved, even if it meant playing it in a different way.
“That was a huge part for me,” Green conceded. “I was supposed to play college volleyball and then when I lost that part, it felt like a big piece of my life was missing while I was recovering, and then finding adaptive sports and adaptive training gave me back my hope and my drive to push forward again.”
Green has learned to play sitting volleyball. It's played on a smaller surface with a much lower net—about 3-and-a-half feet above the floor. It's a game she learned was much tougher to play than standing up.
“In sitting volleyball, you have to be able to read where the ball is going, get there first and get ready to pass from there,” Green said. “So it’s definitely a lot harder because you have to be able to predict where the ball is going and get there a lot quicker. That’s probably the hardest part.”
Green has more than played sitting volleyball. She's played it well enough to earn a spot on the U.S. Paralympic A2 sitting volleyball team. She will be vying for a spot on the team for the 2024 games.
Green played along with a group of Illinois State University students who took part in Adaptapalooza at the Student Fitness Center last week. It's the university's annual event that aims to showcase the different adaptable sports those with disabilities can play.
The event also included wheelchair basketball. Mike Adeleke, a junior studying therapeutic recreation at ISU, said he realizes playing basketball on two wheels is harder than it looks.
“I would say getting to the ball (is hardest). I have a strong upper body, so I realized the upper body is what you use mostly, but just getting around on the wheelchair is what kind of got me,” Adeleke said. “If anyone ever thinks people who are disabled can’t do whatever (activity) an able-bodied can, they can do even more.”
Julie Kreis, a sophomore recreation management major, was among the students who tried rock climbing while blindfolded.
“I was comfortable with rock climbing, but not being able to see where I was was a little scary,” Kreis said. “But also not being able to see how high I was was helpful too.”
Kreis got about halfway up the 47-foot wall. She said the experience gave her more respect for the challenges those with disabilities encounter every day and helps her to better understand how they are entitled to recreational opportunities of their own.
“It definitely does because if I’m working for a park district, maybe having leagues for wheelchair basketball and not just normal basketball, making sure everyone is included,” Kreis said.
This was the fifth year for ISU's Adaptapalooza, an event that attracts about 200 students each year. But the students are generally able bodied, and it's more an academic exercise for students who plan to work those with disabilities in recreation management and therapeutic recreation.
What activities are available for the disabled for the rest of the year?
Jason St. Clair with ISU's Campus Recreation said they are working on that.
“The feedback we’ve gotten is people are always asking can we do this more? When’s the next time we can do this? Where is another place we can do this?” St. Clair said. “Taking that feedback and starting to think some of the logistics of how can we make that happen for individuals on more of a regular basis as opposed to waiting once a year for Adaptapalooza.”
St. Clair said ISU is working on developing an intramural wheelchair basketball league and has purchased adaptive wheelchairs.
Green commends ISU for offering a sports outlet for those with disabilities even if it's just once a year. She says one of her biggest challenges as she began the road to recovery, fitness and sports options for young people like her are almost non-existent.
“A lot of amputees you see are usually your older, diabetic generation, have different things they are thriving to do and things unlike what people my age are wanting to do,” Green said.
Green is working to expand those opportunities. She's looking to work with health clubs in Bloomington-Normal and Peoria to offer fitness options and programming for those with disabilities.
Green has also become a motivational speaker at schools and businesses. That's how she discovered there are so many more young people than she realized who are working through physical setbacks.
“There’s definitely a lot more people than I even realized when I started this,” Green conceded. “I’m finding more and more.”
Green has also gone back to school. She is studying physical therapy at Bradley University. Her goal is to become a physical therapist to specifically help amputees.
“That’s something that’s not really seen around in this area,” Green said. “There’s a lot of kids from cancer who have become amputees in this area, especially with St. Jude (Children’s Hospital of Illinois) in Peoria.”
“My dream is to open my own facility, have physical therapy, adaptive training and massage and essential oils and everything all in one place where people like me don’t have to go to six different places to get what they need.”
Green's nonprofit aims to help others get adaptive equipment, since insurance won't always cover it, and to send kids to sports camps that are specifically for kids with disabilities.
Green was scheduled to undergo surgery last week to remove a spinal tumor but says she doesn't plan to let it stop her. She's also considering trying out for the Paralympics in surfing for the 2024 games.
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