COLUMBIA — Two weeks after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games conclude, the biggest and brightest stars in adaptive sports take center stage in Tokyo, Japan, for the 2020 Paralympic Games from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
Two members of Missouri's wheelchair basketball team have been named to their respective country's roster.
MU head coach Ron Lykins will lead the U.S. Men's National Team in defense of its second gold medal, while junior forward Colin Higgins, of Rothesay, New Brunswick, looks to earn a gold medal with Team Canada as a player. It will be Higgins' first Paralympic Games.
Lykins is going into his fourth Paralympics as a coach. He led the Women's National team to gold medals in 2004 and 2008 and a gold with the men's team at Rio 2016.
Higgins is reflective on his journey, as it took an unusual path to get to wheelchair basketball's highest level.
“My disability or injury is not from birth," Higgins said. "I was 23 or 22, and I blew up my left knee which ended up killing some nerves in my foot, so drop foot."
Drop foot is when there is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot.
He explained that he had an active upbringing, playing sports including hockey, baseball and golf. His mom is a nurse and works with an occupational therapist who is involved in wheelchair basketball.
"She was asking me for a while to come try it out," Higgins said. "After about six months of kind of not wanting anything to do with that I finally tried it, that was 2014, and here we are now.”
Higgins talked about the importance of representing his country.
“It's always very cool," he said. "I mean I never grew up dreaming to play wheelchair basketball for my country... but anytime you get to dawn the jersey, the red and white, is pretty cool, it just kind of makes you feel as if you're part of something a little bigger.”
Lykins also is appreciative of a journey that started at an internship at the University of Kentucky and has turned to a decorated career.
"When I first got into the sport, I knew the Paralympics were there and it became a goal of mine, to be able to coach at that level," Lykins said.
"To represent your country in athletic competition at the highest level is one of the greatest honors you could have, so I wanted to do it."
Both Higgins and Lykins both credit MU for being a big part of their journey.
“Missouri has done a lot for me," Higgins said. "It's kind of given me a platform to expand my basketball abilities as far as my schooling, and I'm really appreciative of them, and looking forward to being back there in September."
Lykins showed excitement when talking about the Games and is looking forward to seeing Higgins compete after not coaching him for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When I heard the news about Colin making Team Canada, that added something to it because I'm really happy that one of our players has worked so hard, has met his dream," Lykins said.
"He'll go there and do well and he'll represent Mizzou really well."
Lykins urges the community to embrace the Paralympic games.
“There's gonna be more coverage this year for the Paralympic Games live coverage than there's ever have been before," said Lykins. "This is your chance to see some outstanding athletes get a chance to participate and compete at the highest level."