Team USA Paralympian leaves hometown Houston to compete in Tokyo

The Paralympics are officially underway in Tokyo. A member of the U.S. women's basketball team has been training for years for this big moment, through TIRR Memorial Hermann right here in Houston.

We caught up with Kaitlyn Eaton from Houston before she left for her opportunity of a lifetime.

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Kaitlyn is ready to rock the court in Tokyo at the Summer Paralympics. She has been on Team USA the past four years and has competed in world championships, but nothing this big. Her teammates are trying to prepare her.

"They just keep telling us that this is an entirely different beast. So, quite honestly, I don't know what to expect. I have not ever experienced that, of course, I've seen it on TV. With this Paralympics being so different due to COVID I'm not sure even they know what to expect," smiles Kaitlyn.  

TIRR Memorial Hermann introduced her to basketball when she was a little girl, but she only started playing the sport ten years ago while in high school. That's when their Adaptive Sports Program welcomed her on their team, the Hot Wheels.

"My team was all boys. There was not another girl on my team when I joined. So that was you know pretty intimidating at first, but I think it also helped me because I mean if you want to play, then you're going to have to start making yourself to a point to where they want you out on the court with them. But I got very blessed, the head coach at the time, her name was Jenny Gomez, she essentially took me under her wing and taught me everything she knows," explains Kaitlyn.

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TIRR's program focuses on teaching independence and inclusion, often using sports and recreation as that tool. Peggy Turner from TIRR has also been cheering on Kaitlyn her entire life. She's there with her in Tokyo.

"I'm practicing yelling through my mask so Kaitlyn can hear me on the court. I probably need to practice taking pictures with tears in my eyes because I'm going to cry the minute she gets on the court. It feels like she's my kid or grandkid," boasts Peggy.  

Playing wheelchair basketball has been rewarding, emotionally and financially, for Kaitlyn.

It even led to a college scholarship! She was relieved to find basketball after struggling to find activities as a child. Her schools just weren't equipped to help.

Kaitlyn was born with a condition called sacral agenesis.

"Basically it's a big word and my spinal cord did not develop completely in the womb. I actually don't have my spine from, I don't have my entire sacrum, and I don't have a tailbone as well," explains Kaitlin.
She has always dreamed big. Now at the Paralympics, those dreams are coming true.

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"I want to soak in the moment and really take in the fact that I'm a Paralympian and I get to go and experience this and not many other people in the world will ever get to experience this," says Kaitlyn.
Peggy is thrilled Kaitlyn is leading the way for others, here in her hometown.

"It really is a huge moment for Houston to have athletes with disabilities that have come up through our Houston school systems and have had opportunities because of TIRR Memorial Hermann and the facilities we're able to practice in to have this opportunity. So we want to continue to grow Paralympians in Houston and give them those avenues to achieve the pinnacle of whatever that might be for them. Whether it's sports or health and wellness and finding joy again in our community," says Peggy.

We certainly want to wish Kaitlyn all our best for an amazing time in Tokyo. Also important to note, Peggy from TIRR is going to the Paralympics on her own dime and time paying her own way and taking vacation time from work to do it. She has volunteered at every Olympics for the past 30 years!

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