Alex Hilgeford is no different from many teenagers in that he loves to play sports. What sets Hilgeford apart, though, is what he’s had to overcome in order to take the field and the court.
The 13-year-old Riverside boy, who had one leg amputated at a young age, plays basketball and baseball from a wheelchair and has his sights set on golf, hockey and soccer.
“You throw a disability into being a kid of his age and they want to feel sorry for themselves and we’ve taught him at an early age that you can’t do that,” said Drew Hilgeford, Alex’s father. ”I’ve always told him that there’s nothing in this world that you’re not going to be able to do that anybody else can, but you might not be able to do it to the quality that they can do it. But I never want to hear him say he can’t do it. It’s just not in the books.”
Alex was diagnosed with Popliteal Pterygium Syndrome at birth, a rare genetic disorder affecting the development of the skin, most often characterized by a cleft lip and webbing of the hands, feet and joints. He was born with severe webbing behind his knee that inhibited movement and a cleft lip that prevented him from opening his mouth.
After surgeries at ages 3 and 6 failed to save Alex’s leg, his parents made the tough decision to amputate. Drew said that the amputation was the best decision they ever made.
“We started showing him videos of prosthesis after the last failed surgery,” Drew said. “It was the perfect thing for us because it gave him his life back. Now, he is just unstoppable.”
Alex has excelled at wheelchair basketball, recently making second team all-tournament as his team placed second at the Midwest Conference Championship in Milwaukee March 21. In April, he helped his team place fifth out of 14 teams in the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Louisville, Ky.
“(Wheelchair basketball) gives him an avenue to go and live through sports,” Drew said. “We’ve already got some college coaches looking at him for the future. One of his goals is to hopefully make the Olympic team one year. So, 2024 Olympics, watch out because he might be a part of it.”
For Alex, his family is his support.
“My parents give me strength to keep playing,” he said. “They don’t think that I’m going to lose or do badly.”
During one game, the St. Helen’s Catholic School seventh grader made a particularly memorable shot.
“I was videotaping for DA-TV (Dayton Access Television) and I zoomed in on (Alex) and as he was going to the half-court, the coach said something to him and he turned and looked at him and all of a sudden he threw the ball and I scanned in to see who he threw it to,” Drew said. “The whole entire gym went nuts. He shot a half-court shot in a wheelchair at 13 years old. I could never in my life do that, but he’s very well-known for shooting three-pointers.”
Something else that has helped Alex through tough times has been his involvement with The Boy Scouts of America.
“He just got done being a patrol leader. He was a cub scout and is now a boy scout,” Drew said. “I think it’s helped him adjust. Boy scouts has probably helped him to adapt, to overcome. Over the years of 14 surgeries before we had the leg, he’s done a very good job throughout life of adjusting to these things.”
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