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Spina bifida just token barrier for Hausman-Weiss

Read this story in the Houston Chronicle

From a young age, Abraham Hausman-Weiss has never let paralysis keep him from being on the move.

The Emery-Weiner senior has tackled swim lessons, wheelchair races, track and field and, for the past 11 years, wheelchair basketball – all while battling through a debilitating spinal condition. Yet, what makes Hausman-Weiss stand out is his resilience to inspire others about some of the realities that come with physical disablement in a fun, comprehensible way.

This weekend, Hausman-Weiss, 18, and his Randy Reisbord Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) chapter, are hosting their fourth annual Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at The Zone. The event, on Sunday, May 15, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., is set to benefit their AZA chapter as well as the national champion wheelchair basketball team, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hotwheels.

"When we started talking about causes to support, we thought of Abraham and how he's in our chapter," said Justin Silver, Randy Reisbord AZA alumnus and current advisor. "He has a disorder called spina bifida. And it only feels right that we should support that cause."

Spina bifida is one of the most prominent, permanently disabling birth defects in America. The spinal cord of those affected doesn't develop properly, and in turn, the condition commonly results in paralysis. Though Hausman-Weiss was born with spina bifida, he never let it diminish his pure love for competitive sports.

Hausman-Weiss shares his home state of Alabama with the Lakeshore Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes people with physical disabilities to have active lifestyles, and offers proper amenities for them to do just that.

"That's where I started swimming lessons when I was 2-years-old and continued on with wheelchair racing and track and field when I was 5-years-old," Hausman-Weiss said. "By the time I was in first grade, I was at a wheelchair basketball tournament hosted by Lakeshore. I saw the game and actually started crying because it looked like so much fun, and I wasn't a part of it."

By the following year, Hausman-Weiss signed up for his first of three wheelchair basketball teams. He played with the Lakeshore prep and varsity teams, for a total of six years, before moving with his family to Houston, where he just finished his 11th and last season of club wheelchair basketball with the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hotwheels.

"We've been in the National Championship four times since I've been here, and the other year, we got third place," Hausman-Weiss said. "We've also won two national championships."

As Hausman-Weiss' friends in Reisbord, which is affiliated with the B'nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO), learned about the Hotwheels, they knew they wanted to organize something not only to help the organization, but support their friend and spread awareness.

"We all knew we had a member in our group who is paralyzed, but also loves basketball, and we wanted to be able to include everybody," said Ben Abdeen, a senior at Xavier Academy. "So, I had the idea of wheelchair basketball and it turned out to be very successful."

When Hausman-Weiss found out the wheelchair basketball tournament was happening, he was excited, but didn't realize how big the event would get after being internationally recognized by BBYO as a model program for other teens to emulate.

"It was a really, really good feeling to know my friends were supporting me like this," Hausman-Weiss said. "I knew they were making a big deal about it, so I knew it was going to be cool. I didn't know it would earn international recognition."

More than just learning about physical disabilities, Hausman-Weiss wants people to learn about wheelchair basketball as a legitimate sport.

"I just want to advocate the legitimacy of the sport because there are serious, elite athletes who are going to be on the U.S. Paralympic team for wheelchair basketball and are some of the most elite athletes in the world despite their disability," Hausman-Weiss said.

And Randy Reisbord AZA has tried to advocate for just that. During the first year of the wheelchair basketball tournament, Reisbord had around 50 participants, raising $2,000, and have only increased their numbers since. Just last year, the tournament had 80 teens, raising $6,000, and is looking to increase those numbers even more this year to help the Junior Hotwheels team with their travel expenses.

"Our closest competition is in Dallas," said Junior Hotwheels assistant coach Ava Skrabanek, also TIRR Memorial Hermann adaptive sports coordinator. "So if we're going to want to play, we have to travel, and that comes with a lot of travel expenses: Hotels, flights, tournament entry fees, organization entry fees with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. So that money goes to help support all those in-season costs."

The wheelchair basketball tournament is open to anyone ages 11-18, making teams of six-to-eight people. Each participant pays $20 and can register upon arriving at the event.

"For all the Hotwheels athletes that show up, we divide them up and basically make them team captains," Silver said.

Other ways to assist with the wheelchair basketball tournament include volunteering as a referee, scorekeeping or donating directly to Randy Reisbord AZA's Generosity page (tinyurl.com/reisbordwbb). Those interested in learning more about ways to get involved can contact Silver at jsilver33@gmail.com.

Hausman-Weiss will be graduating this month from the Emery/Weiner School and has committed to taking his talents to the University of Alabama, after being one of the top wheelchair basketball recruits in the nation. Despite his moving up, Silver said Randy Reisbord AZA plans to continue hosting their tournament.

"I think it's become something that's really a part of the chapter," Silver said.

"Based on just the excitement surrounding this event and all the kids that rally around it, it's something [the kids] really built themselves, and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon."

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