Paralysis could not douse Mike Ward's competitive fire

Ward's accomplishments, showing others they can continue to play sports has the native Oklahoman headed into the Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA Hall of Fame.
by Jenni Carlson Published: October 10, 2012
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Mike Ward lives by a simple philosophy.

If you're standing still, you're in the way.

Living out that mantra became a little trickier the day a doctor told him he'd never walk again.

Trickier, mind you.

Not impossible.

Ward has been a paraplegic for almost four decades, the result of a broken back when he was still a teenager. But ever since that accident changed his life, the Oklahoma native has been helping to change other people's lives.

His conduit?

Sports.

“Wheelchair sports has really opened a lot of doors for me personally,” Ward said, “and was able to help me reach out to a lot of folks.”

On Saturday, Ward will be inducted into the Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA Hall of Fame. On a day when most eyes in our fair state will be on the gridiron, he will be recognized for accomplishments that might not be widely known but that should be wildly celebrated.

He has made life better for thousands.

Sports has always been part of Ward's life. A lineman, he played high school football in Moore, spent a year at Wabash College in Indiana, then had a short stint on the Oklahoma State football team before deciding to focus on his academics. He transferred to Oklahoma, where his younger brother, Jeff, had signed to playing football.

To make some money, Mike Ward took a job unloading cargo trucks in Oklahoma City. He was on the loading dock one day when some cargo broke free and fell on him. He never lost consciousness and realized what had happened. He had broken his back. He had no feeling in his legs.

He was paralyzed.

When the doctor confirmed it later at the hospital, he had one more bit of information for Ward.

“You aren't ever going to walk again,” the doctor said.

“You don't know me,” Ward thought.

He had been taught by his parents to believe that he could do anything, that there are no barriers. His injury, as bad as it was, didn't change those beliefs.

And yet, in the first few months after the accident, Ward found that he was imposing limits on himself. He was back at OU, working toward a speech and hearing degree and living in an off-campus apartment. While he went to class, he didn't do much else.

“I was content to stay in my little apartment where I could control everything,” he said.

Then, he met Rich Harrell, another young wheelchair-bound paraplegic in Norman who had been injured a few years earlier. Like Ward, Harrell had played sports throughout his life. As they talked and got to know each other, they realized they still had a desire to compete.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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