Ray Hennagir talking with USA Wheelchair Rugby teammates during a scrimmage intermission on June 26, 2019 at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center.
It took weeks for a recreational therapist to convince Ray Hennagir to try wheelchair basketball during his post-injury recovery process at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Once he tried his first Para sport, he never looked back.
“Wheelchair basketball kind of brought back a sense of normalcy to the recovery instead of just going to a physical therapist or an occupational therapist and doing their exercises all day,” Hennagir said. “It kind of brought me back to being like a kid again, which I guess is more about having fun.”
Hennagir, 32, is now on the U.S. wheelchair rugby team that will compete at next month’s Lima 2019 Parapan American Games, with his sights set on next year’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
A combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Hennagir served his country in a different uniform for six years before being wounded by an improvised explosive device on June 16, 2007 in Zaidon, Iraq, which led to the amputation of both legs as well as four fingers on his left hand.
While in Iraq, Hennagir’s job ranged from searching for weapon caches to refortifying existing bases, making them safer for the troops and personnel there.
“Honestly, [enlisting] just felt like the right thing to do at the time,” Hennagir said.
“I was a combat engineer, which is kind of like a jack of all trades, master of none,” Hennagir said. “My main job in the Marine Corps was seeking out weapons caches and also looking for IEDs.”
Hennagir noted that he and his team members also got to do “route clearance” as part of their job, which was going out to intentionally blow up IEDs in order to ensure other operating forces wouldn’t trip them accidentally.
As a result of his service and sacrifice, Hennagir was awarded the Purple Heart.
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After receiving treatment at the National Naval Medical Center, Hennagir was transported to Walter Reed where he found his new calling.
Hennagir followed the traditional recovery process, which included daily physical and occupational therapy for about a year and a half. Six months into that, however, Hennagir’s recreational therapist convinced him to try wheelchair basketball.
“I head a rec therapist who was playing basketball twice a week,” Hennagir said. “I was using a power wheelchair at the time because I didn’t know I could use [my left] hand to push a wheelchair.”
“[The therapist] kept pushing me to go try wheelchair basketball to just break the normal cycle of doing regular PT and OT,” Hennagir said. “I just kind of fell in love with that and found out I can just push a regular chair.”
The sport helped him rediscover his joy for competitive sports, as well as improved his motor skills for operating manual wheelchair.
He didn’t stop there.
Hennagir joined the Wounded Warrior Regiment and competed in the Warrior Games from 2010 to 2015.
He’s won four gold medals – two in wheelchair basketball and two for sitting volleyball – at the Warrior Games.
“[The Marine Corps and adaptive sports] helped me to fight through adversity and to constantly push no matter what,” Hennagir said. “It helped me to keep a strong head.”
Hennagir played wheelchair basketball at the University of Texas at Arlington and now continues to dominate the courts for the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks, a National Wheelchair Basketball Association team located in Dallas.