Mornings start early for Jennifer Poist, and the days go well into the night. Poist, a member of Team USA’s women’s wheelchair basketball team, burns the candle at both ends in preparation for next month’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I’ve had to spend a lot of time away from my friends and family, but hopefully by the end of the summer it will be well worth it,” said Poist, who is based in Tucson, Arizona.
She wants to win a gold medal to forget about Team USA’s fourth-place finish four years ago at the London Games — and because she plans to retire after these Games at age 27.
Poist said she typically wakes up at 4 a.m. to workout from 5-7 in the morning. She then works as a pharmacist at KMart from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and then goes home to repeat the process the next day.
Poist said her company allows time off for tournaments as long as she makes up the time, and that she wouldn’t trade the hectic time management for anything.
“I really enjoy my work, and I’ll enjoy it the rest of my career,” Poist said.
Her journey to wheelchair sports happened when she started having severe back pains at age 7. Doctors discovered a tumor on her spine that had to be removed, and she’s been in a wheelchair ever since.
Poist went to a kids camp and discovered wheelchair basketball at age 9, and she began playing competitively with the Bennett Blazers in Baltimore. She traveled the country in her sport and progressed to the point where she got recruited by the University of Illinois and the University of Arizona. She became an Arizona Wildcat, where she helped lead the team to a pair of national titles.
Poist said she missed the cut for the women’s national team in 2010 and again in 2011. Everything fell into place in 2012, when she landed a spot on the women’s national team and helped lead the Arizona Wildcats to a national championship.
She continued her pursuit of a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, a dream that began when she took a job in high school so she could hang out with her friend.
“When I was in high school I worked at a pharmacy as an after school job because my best friend worked there,” Poist said.
Poist studied nutritional science as an undergraduate before getting her Doctor of Pharmacy at Arizona. Even beyond her high school job, she said she’s always wanted to work in health care.
“My mom was a dental hygienist, and my sister had cancer, so we spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals,” Poist said. “I had good relationships with doctors and nurses and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Poist said she’s sacrificed most of her time this year with Team USA’s travel schedule, but said basketball has helped her professional career.
“Playing and traveling the world has allowed me to meet lots of different people,” she said. “It has taught me more maturity and how to work with my patients and customers.”
She said the stress factor has reached a level where she has decided to retire at the conclusion of the Paralympic Games, and then she’ll focus on her career while she continues to be an assistant coach at Arizona and play club ball on the side.
Poist said Team USA is beaming with confidence heading to Rio after a pair of wins this year over a couple of potential gold-medal favorites.
“We’ve been doing really well this summer. A month ago in the Netherlands we played Germany and beat both them and the Netherlands,” Poist said. “Beating the Netherlands was a big stepping stone for us, because they were more or less a mental block. We’re feeling united and clicking well together.”
And what would the doctor prescribe to win gold in Rio?
“I would say to pass the ball well,” Poist said. “When our team is moving and connecting we get the best open shots and put it in the hoop more.”
And when she hangs up her Team USA jersey, Poist said she’ll go back to the life outside of work she has missed — one of going to concerts with her friends and playing with her lab puppy, Piper.
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 18 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.