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Spencer Heslop took his love of basketball and a wheelchair halfway around the globe to represent the United States in a Paralympics Youth Camp.
The Clearfield High senior was one of seven Americans picked to participate in a weeklong camp in The Netherlands, thanks to his accomplishments on and off the basketball court.
Spencer doesn't take life at a jog. He's an Eagle Scout, a member of the National Honor Society and an alto saxophone player in his school's symphony band. He has a 4.0 GPA and is enrolled in three Advanced Placement classes.
All of those things plus his athleticism helped land him a spot in a basketball camp nearly 5,000 miles away. He was selected based on a written essay, his sports background and academic achievements.
"There are those who don't like the word disability because it takes away the ability," Spencer's father, Daron Heslop, said. But "his disability has given him a lot of opportunities that other kids haven't had. He could have chosen to do nothing. Instead, he's chosen to do many things. He finds a way to do whatever he wants."
Spencer was born with lipomeningocele, a form of spina bifida.
"We didn't know until a week after he was born that he had spina bifida," his mother, Kerry Heslop, said. "He had his first surgery at 5 1/2 weeks old. He has had three more back surgeries and several on his legs since then."
Consequently, Spencer uses forearm crutches to walk. The wheelchair comes in handy for sports, long strolls and day-to-day commuting between school classes.
Spencer's mother describes her son "as always athletic."
"He plays wheelchair tennis," she said, "but basketball is his first love."
He plays for the Junior Wheelin' Jazz, a team of Utah wheelchair athletes from towns as far-flung as Springville, Stansbury Park and Henefer. He was recruited from a Clearfield city ball club. Playing on a state team has given him the chance to play in tournaments around the nation. His team practices twice a week and will participate in a national tournament in November.
Junior Wheelin' Jazz Coach Marilyn Blakley describes Spencer a soft-spoken athlete, by nature as "our silent weapon." He has a knack for knowing when to pass the ball and when to make his move, she said. And he's always a team player.
Blakley said Spencer's experience overseas will benefit the team.
"The team can see that dreams really do come true," she said. "The goals you set are real."
Spencer characterized his Paralympics play, simply, as "a neat experience."
"It was hard at first because we didn't speak the same language," he said, "so we had to work hard to communicate. I discovered that sports can bring so many cultures together and unite them in one goal."
His mother is proud.
"I am most proud of his positive attitude," she said. "He doesn't let anything slow him down. If there is something he wants to do, he finds a way to do it. He has never looked at his condition as a negative. His positive attitude builds his character and determination, which allows him to accomplish what he wants."
So what's in Spencer's future? College. He has his eye on the University of Illinois, which has a respected wheelchair basketball team. He also plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and participate in the Paralympics.
"It is important to try new things," he said. "If you think you can't do something because of a disability, or you feel something is holding you back but you try anyway, it can really be a blessing. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new."
Did you know:
Spina bifida occurs in 7 of every 10,000 live births in the United States. The Spina Bifida Association estimates that more than 166,000 people in the U.S. suffer this birth defect.