Athletes compete in the Wheelchair World Series at Crestwood

In the summer of 1996, 20-year-old Downers Grove resident Jeff Yackley rode a motorcycle with his future wife, Julianne, behind him in Frankfort.

He collided head-on with a pickup truck and suffered permanent nerve damage to his left leg. He said he had a drop foot and the accident separated his hip from his body.

Julianne also suffered injuries, but since landing on Jeff after the impact, her injuries weren’t as severe or as long-lasting.

For Jeff, who was active in sports at Downers Grove North and the College of DuPage, his athletic days seemed over and his disability required him to wear an ankle brace.

Yackley, now a 56-year-old Lemont resident, is a pitcher for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association Hawks. The Hawks hosted and participated in the USA Wheelchair Softball World Series, which was scheduled Thursday through Saturday at five courts in the Ozinga Field parking lot in Crestwood. Teams cannot maneuver on grass or turf, so the concrete outside the stadium served the athletes well.

Yackley is also a member of Team USA, which is coached by Keith Wallace of Frankfort and Sue Dineen of Oak Lawn.

At 20, Yackley said he accepted his fate.

“I wasn’t bitter and I was young enough to be able to stay active, although I couldn’t do the same things at the level I was at,” he said. “I had to use my right leg more than before.

“No bitterness. The Lord has a strange way of changing plans and details, and you have to accept things.

He said his only regret about the way things turned out was not knowing that adaptive sports existed. Adaptive sports were not well publicized back then and there was no internet to spread the word.

Yackley said he learned it on a mission trip to Kenya seven years ago. Her roommate was Wallace, who is also a coach and executive director of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association.

Wallace took one look at Yackley’s brace and decided he was a perfect candidate for wheelchair sports.

“I wish I had discovered these adaptive sports when I was in my twenties,” Yackley said. “Who knows what I could have done? But I was certainly blessed. I got to play basketball and what a humiliating sport it is. These players are much better than me. They are faster and better. It overwhelmed me a bit. »

Yackley is in his 23rd year at the Links at Carillon in Plainfield and has been director of golf there since 2008. He is also the captain of the Chicago Bears Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association wheelchair football team and was scheduled to compete in a tournament Saturday and Sunday at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.

“I want to hang on for as long as possible and I want to do it until my body gives out,” he said. “I feel like I’m 30 and I love my team. The Lord has blessed me to be able to come here and physically hold on and play.

The Hawks, who finished third in the World Series in 2021, opened the 17-team double-elimination tournament with a 15-0 victory over the West Michigan Rollin Whitecaps and a 13-2 triumph over the Deep South Hurricanes.

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Other members of Wallace’s list are Jake Williams, Devin Lockett, Will Smith, Paul Smith, Keith Cooper, Jimmy Jackson, Billy Smith, Dan Douglas, JR Boyer, Dino Ramirez, Alex Parra, Drew Cichon, Jay Robinson, Justin Hillman , Juan Ortiz. , Jorge Alfaro, Dan Palmer and Nicki Vansa.

The Nebraska Barons are the defending World Series champions and are the top seed this year. They won their first two games by a combined score of 31-5.

The team that came the furthest was an all-star team from Japan. He opened the series as the fifth seed and defeated the Houston Astros, 15-1 and eliminated the fourth-seeded Columbus Pioneers, 16-7.

After a 13-hour flight, the Japanese players spent time in Chicago a few days before the tournament and on Thursday night they planned to attend a Windy City Thunderbolts game.

Coach Yuta Saito said that this group is only together for one tournament and the players will return to Japan and disperse to their different teams.

“Of course they want to win this tournament,” Saito said. “Players want to gain experience by playing abroad. When they return home, they will have the experience of playing with teams like these.

Jeff Vorva is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.

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