Athlete recalls her journey to Team USA’s women’s wheelchair basketball team

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Olympic Games might be over, but athletes are still making their way to Rio. The Paralympic Games begin Sept. 7, and one disabled Clay County athlete has risen from an accident to the top of her sport to punch her ticket to Brazil.

FOX 4's Sean McDowell met with Vanessa Erskine as she recalls her journey from the accident that changed her life to where she is today.

It's a life Vanessa said she never imagined, and a dream she couldn't have asked for. The Kearney, Mo. native is now a member of Team USA's women's wheelchair basketball team.

As a 16-year-old, she worked as a rodeo bull fighter, helping cowboys remain safe. She sustained an injury in April 2011 when a second bull was accidentally released into the ring.

"He threw me into the air and then actually stepped on my back," Vanessa recalled. She sustained injuries to her lungs, heart, ribs, and back and spent 3 months in rehab. She's now paralyzed from the waist down.

"I didn't personally even know anybody in a wheelchair when I was first injured," Vanessa said. "I didn't know the opportunities that were out there for me."

Two months after the accident, her father Lloyd encouraged her to try wheelchair basketball for the first time.

"We'd go down to the basketball courts, and she would play," Lloyd said. "When something like this happens, you've got two choices: you can lay down and go, 'Woe is me,' or you can say, 'Alright, where do I do from here?'"

Vanessa said she didn't even play team basketball before her injury. Being part of Team USA has transformed her into being the athlete she always dreamed of, and a role model for others who aspire to overcome their own personal obstacles.

"A lot of people don't see the wheelchair; they're seeing just phenomenal athletes. It's kind of my goal now to be that role model for younger kids coming up to try to achieve whatever goals they might set," Vanessa said.

Winning gold might be beside the point. Vanessa is already shining.

Vanessa will next appear at the Midwest Ability Summit, which begins Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Overland Park Convention Center.

Team USA will begin their run at Paralympic gold in Rio on Sept. 8 when they take on France.