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Emily Oberst’s Road to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games

Emily Oberst is a 25 year old Wisconsin Native, current Chicago resident, 2020 University of Illinois graduate, AND a member of Team U.S.A’s Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team. She and her team will be competing in the Paris Paralympic Games this summer! Emily is a member of FFC Gold Coast, where she completes most of her training for the Paralympics.

I met with her to learn about her background, how she found Wheelchair Basketball, her journey to making it to the Paris Paralympics, and what her training schedule looks like at FFC Gold Coast. Keep reading to learn Emily’s story, or watch our interview below!

From Cancer Survivor to Paralympic Athlete

As a young girl, Emily was obsessed with basketball. She spent her weekends traveling for tournaments, and had dreams to one day play in the WNBA and maybe even make it on the Team U.S.A Olympic Basketball team. At age 12, Emily was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer that was in her leg. The diagnosis meant she would have to undergo a forced surgery, causing her to lose the ability to run and jump. 

“At the time, I was more devastated to learn I wouldn’t be able to play basketball than the actual cancer, because I was only 12 years old and I didn’t really know what (receiving a cancer diagnosis) meant.”

The great news: after undergoing the surgery and chemotherapy, Emily is in full remission! 

Emily explained that her best friends at that age were her teammates. Though she was grateful to be healthy, when she was told she wouldn’t be able to play basketball anymore, she crumbled. She stayed on her basketball team as a manager, but she couldn’t stop herself from desperately missing the sport that had been such an important part of her life. 

Discovering Wheelchair Basketball

To satisfy her passion for sports and fitness, Emily explored alternative options to basketball. She tried out golf, which did not require full leg function. At age 15, she was approached by a Wheelchair Basketball coach in her hometown of Milwaukee to try out the sport. He invited her to attend one of their practices.

“I was originally very hesitant. I didn’t understand that because I walk in everyday life, I could still play an adaptive sport.”

She went to the practice anyways, with the goal of politely saying, “thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t think this sport is for me.” Emily was immediately surprised with what she saw on the court. A sport she had assumed was slower paced with little excitement seemed to be just the opposite. Emily fell in love with the energy, athleticism, and competitiveness of Wheelchair Basketball. It encompassed everything that she loved about able-bodied basketball! 

But, she wasn’t in a wheelchair in everyday life. How could she participate? Emily learned that anyone who is unable to participate in able-bodied basketball as a result of a disabling conditioning or injury is able to play wheelchair basketball. Having experienced a surgery at 12 that prevented her from running and jumping, Emily was qualified to play wheelchair basketball. 

From that practice on, Emily’s passion for basketball was reignited.  

Emily competing on the Team U.S.A Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Journey to College and National Team Success

Emily worked on building upper body strength and learning the differing rules of the Wheelchair Basketball game. From what Emily explained, in addition to the sport being incredibly fun, the Wheelchair Basketball community is incredible. She said that everyone has a unique story that got them there. They also have many commonalities, including their love for sports and basketball, that bonds them. 

Emily played Wheelchair Basketball throughout high school. She went on to be recruited for the University of Alabama College Team at age 17. She transferred to University of Illinois, where she finished her career as a college athlete. During her time at University of Illinois, she also made the U.S.A Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team and won a gold medal in the 2019 U.S. Women’s U25 World Championships!

Reigniting Passion Post-College

After graduating college in 2020, Emily’s focus turned to her career in operations and logistics. She was loving her post-college life in Chicago. However, she felt a part of her was missing without having basketball in her daily routine. In the summer of 2021, she watched as some of her college teammates competed in the Tokyo Paralympics, taking home the bronze medal for Team U.S.A.

“I have never known what (winning a Paralympic medal) felt like, so that sparked my passion (for Wheelchair Basketball) again.”

I can’t imagine what it would be like to work a full time job AND train for the Paralympics, but Emily is pulling it off flawlessly. Since picking up the sport again in 2021, Emily and the Team U.S.A Women’s Basketball Team won a bronze medal at the World Championships and a gold medal at the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile. Her next goal? Win gold in Paris! 

Paralympic Training and FFC Gold Coast

Emily spends one long weekend a month at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The rest of her Paralympic training happens at FFC Gold Coast. 

“It’s super nice that this (FFC) location has a basketball court so I can easily come shoot hoops when I need to get those sessions in and then lift for the conditioning portion of my training.” 

Emily trains for the U.S.A Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team Paralympic Games at FFC Gold Coast.

How You Can Support Emily’s Journey

My first question for Emily as we were finishing up our time together was how we can best support her from back in the U.S. while she is in Paris competing with Team U.S.A. The first step is to follow her on Instagram, @emily_oberst. She posts updates on her Paralympic journey there. She will also be going to China in a few weeks to compete in a “Friendly Tournament” against China and the Netherlands. Follow along with her team there as well!

Interested in watching the games in Paris? Me too. Emily informed me that they will be streaming on Peacock! 

Emily, your FFC Family can’t wait to support you in the Paralympic Games. We are so lucky to have you as a part of our community!  

Post Written by FFC Marketing Manager Sydney Meyer.