By Ryan Wilson | May 18, 2020, 1:55 p.m. (ET)

Becca Murray and Abby Dunkin pose for a photo at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center on Feb. 6, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

Retiring from sport can be tough for any athlete. 

In Paralympic sports, the decision to step away from the field of play can be even more challenging. 

“I definitely think that being a part of wheelchair sports, specifically wheelchair basketball, has just this sense that people know what you’re feeling, and the obstacles that you experience every day,” said Paralympic gold medalist Becca Murray, acknowledging a felt sense of commonalities with other athletes with disabilities. “I don’t feel like the outside world totally gets that.”

Murray will be joined by her Team USA women’s wheelchair basketball teammate Abby Dunkin in not competing at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Both decided to retire due to the postponement of the Games, and the timing was right to stop.

Dunkin, 24, announced her decision to retire in an extended social media post on May 12. She said the hours that followed were a “whirlwind of emotions” — not wanting to let her U.S. teammates down, and feeling heartbroken by the thought of possibly distancing herself from the relationships she made.

“Looking back at it now, I think I’m in a place where I can actually say that physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything is aligned, and I haven’t been able to say that in years,” Dunkin said. “I think this is a perfect opportunity, and probably the best decision at this time.”

Murray, 30, had previously retired after the Rio 2016 Games. After a brief break from international play, she returned to “have fun” and be a role model for “the younger ones” in the lead up to Tokyo 2020.

This decision to retire, she said, is final. She has no intentions of coming back to international play.

“Once there was talk about possibly postponing the Paralympics until next year, I started to feel, ‘OK, do I really want to go on another year, or am I done?’” Murray said. “As soon as there was talk about it, I started feeling myself out about what I wanted to do.”

Murray told Rollt Magazine, a wheelchair basketball publication based out of Germany, on April 22: “I could not get myself in a place mentally where I wanted to train for another year and a half, and that wouldn’t be fair on my team or my country.”

Murray and Dunkin were a part of the Team USA’s gold-medal performance in Rio. In the gold-medal game against Germany, Murray collected 33 points after shooting 69 percent from the floor. This was the team’s second gold medal in three Games (the U.S. finished fourth at London 2012).

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Rio was Dunkin’s first Games; it was Murray’s third. 

As good as the Rio 2016 gold medal felt, the Paralympians speak fondly of the lasting memories international play created, and the friendships it produced.

Dunkin remembers trading pins with athletes from other countries at Rio. Trading pins at Games is a historic tradition between countries, and Dunkin and her basketball teammate Desiree Miller approached a pair of sitting volleyball players from another country in the Paralympic Village. 

Initially, one of the volleyball players didn’t react to Dunkin and Miller, simply because they were from the U.S.

“She looked up, saw that we were wearing our USA gear, and said, ‘You’re an American. Why are you talking to us? You Americans don’t like us,’” Dunkin recalled. “It really opened my eyes.”

Dunkin said they did eventually trade pins, and they have since become friends. She said this showed that differences don’t matter in the Paralympic Games.

“The only thing that matters is sport.”

Additionally, Dunkin said Stephanie Wheeler is the reason she was able to come out publicly as gay. Wheeler was the women’s wheelchair basketball coach for the U.S. at Rio. 

“(Paralympic athletes) don’t care where you come from, who you are, who you love, who you pray for, what you pray for,” Dunkin said.

The three-time Paralympian Murray echoed Dunkin’s sentiments, and said she still stays in contact with athletes from other countries. One member of the women’s wheelchair basketball team from Peru recently reached out to her, expressing how much she enjoyed Murray’s play.

“Those are the types of things that I will miss,” Murray said.

Murray will continue to play on her local wheelchair basketball teams in Wisconsin. She is using her retirement from international play to ease one step closer to retiring from the game altogether.

Dunkin is not yet sure whether she will continue competing in the game at some level, but she is leaving open the possibility of one day coaching or training. 

No matter where her future lies, she wants to make sure she gives back to the sport — a game that gave her a sense of purpose after acquiring her disability and entering into a depression, and a game that saved her life after once overdosing on pills.

“I healed through that sport. Now I’m at a place where I can step away, and be content with it,” she said. “I think that wheelchair basketball did its purpose. It did what it was supposed to do for me, and I hope I did what I was supposed to do for the game.”

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.