By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — On a Saturday in July seven years ago, Kyle Galloway jumped a hill on his four-wheeler — a decision that would change his life forever.
Police said he lost control of his ATV, was ejected over the handlebars and struck the ground with his head. He was wearing a helmet, but his spine was injured.
He was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and put in the neuro-critical care unit there.
The then-18-year-old found out he was paralyzed. He had no movement in his legs and very little in his arms.
The injury left him confined to a power wheelchair. He didn’t even have enough use of his triceps to operate a manual one.
He had to learn how to live his life in a new way — sitting down. During his recovery, he wondered whether he would ever be active again.
The answer came six years later.
On a recent afternoon, Galloway sat in the Indiana University Kokomo student center wearing an orange soccer jersey and watching YouTube videos on his smartphone.
They were highlights from a power soccer tournament.
Players wheeled around a court and kicked a 13-inch soccer ball using guards on the front of their wheelchairs.
He looked up from the video to point out that a power soccer player was once clocked kicking the ball 41 mph.
“We kick the ball so hard,” he said.
This is how Galloway spends his free time now. He researches power soccer, practices it and plays it.
The IU Kokomo student was a two-sport athlete in high school, so it feels good to be able to play a competitive sport again, he said.
And he doesn’t just play. He excels.
His team, RHI Sudden Impact, just won the national power soccer championships.
The Central Indiana team defeated DASA Dynamites, from Missouri, 1-0 in July to win.
“We were all just excited to reach the goals we set forth at the beginning of the year,” Galloway said.
And they broke a record along the way.
Teams must play at least 12 games during the year, with two from their conference. Galloway’s team played 47, something that’s never been done in power soccer, he said.
Galloway started playing a year ago after his brother heard there was an open spot on a team.
That was the first time Galloway had even heard of the sport.
You see, he knew there were all kinds of options for people in manual wheelchairs. There’s basketball, baseball, tennis, lacrosse and softball to name a few.
He didn’t know there were any sports for people like him, who can’t manipulate a manual chair.
As it turns out, there are two: soccer and hockey.
“And I don’t know much about hockey,” he said.
Power soccer was the first competitive team sport designed and developed specifically for power wheelchair users, according to the United States Power Soccer Association.
There are teams across the world in Japan, England, Canada, Australia and, of course, the United States.
There are 60 teams in the United States. Seventeen are part of the Indianapolis league.
Galloway said the Hoosier state is a hotbed for the sport.
The game is played in a gymnasium on a regulation basketball court. Two teams of four players attack, defend and spin-kick a soccer ball.
Players kick the ball using guards on their wheelchairs that they manipulate with a joystick.
“The only motion skills are what you can do with the joystick on your wheelchair,” he said. “Some people use their mouths to do that. Some use their head. One girl uses her foot.”
Galloway said he’s resting up right now because he’s in the sport’s off season. Come September, though, Sudden Impact will start practicing once a week.
Galloway doesn’t get much more practice than that. It’s hard to practice on his own because he has to have someone who can chase soccer balls around for him, he said.
And it’s not like he can call up his friends for a pickup game, either. It’s a lot of work for him and his teammates to have people transfer them to their soccer chairs and drive them somewhere for a game, he said.
Those daily struggles disappear when he’s playing, though. Galloway races around the soccer court without any help at all.
That was the biggest draw for him.
“This is something I can do independently, on my own,” he said. “I don’t have many opportunities to do that. And it’s nice to be with other people who know what you’re going through.”
Galloway said he will continue playing power soccer as long as he can. There are no age limits in the sport.
“This is a lifetime thing for me,” he said. “I’ve fallen in love with this game, and I don’t want to stop.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.