While the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games was a disappointment for many athletes, high school wheelchair basketball player Ixhelt Gonzalez (USA) took advantage of the delay to fight her way back onto the United States team.
After being named on the USA roster for the 2018 World Championships at just 13 years of age, Gonzalez was one of the final players cut for the originally scheduled 2020 Games, instead selected as an alternate.
A year later, the now 17-year-old is back on the team and on the ground in Tokyo for her first Paralympic Games.
“I like to say that Covid-19 gave me a second chance,” Gonzalez told the Olympic Information Service.
“Covid’s not a good thing but it gave me a second chance to represent USA and show how great I am (and) what I learned from other basketball camps and from these veterans.”
Missing out on the original team was a disappointment but Gonzalez, who was born with femoral anteversion, has overcome greater setbacks in her young life.
When the pandemic arrived and caused the postponement of the Games, the then-10th grader saw it as an opportunity.
“It changed my mentality and my effort into working,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I have a second chance. I can totally make the team now – if I work hard, obviously’.”
That hard work, combined with her inherent basketball IQ, earned her a spot on the team, says USA coach Lawrence ‘Trooper’ Johnson.
“As much as she’s young and she’s still developing as a player, she just has this natural ball sense and she understands the game of basketball,” Johnson said.
“As her career moves on she’ll refine those talents and get even better. But there’s something about her that you can’t teach, she just has this natural ability to know basketball.”
Although Gonzalez’s first Paralympic Games experience is an unusual one due to the pandemic, she is soaking it up and continuing to learn from the older players who Johnson says “drive the culture of the programme”.
“Looking back from Rio 2016, I can’t imagine the experience that the veterans have had in past Paralympics,” Gonzalez said.
“But just being here with them and being here as a newbie and a rookie is just an awesome feeling.”
A less awesome feeling is working through the “big packet of homework” Gonzalez brought with her to Tokyo to keep up with her final year of high school, which began earlier this month.
As for whether she is actually doing the homework?
“I’m on and off about it,” she said.
For full wheelchair basketball schedule and results click here.