Courtney Ryan was a member of the 2019 Parapan American Games team that earned a silver medal.
Josie Aslakson and Courtney Ryan are not new to the wheelchair basketball world, but this summer they will experience something very new: representing Team USA at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Aslakson and Ryan were both named to the star-studded squad that will represent the U.S. at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. They join Americans Becca Murray and Natalie Schneider, both two-time Paralympic gold medalists, on a team that features six newcomers and six veterans that look to defend their Paralympic gold medal.
For Ryan, the experience leading up to earning a spot on the Paralympic roster has been surreal.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had aspirations to make it to a Games,” Ryan said. “Things might have taken a different turn, but I’m still here. I still made it. There’s really no words to describe how this feels.”
The U.S. enters Tokyo 2020 as the defending Paralympic gold medalists, creating a red, white and blue target for other countries. But the Americans are no strangers to that, and after losing by just three points to Canada in the gold-medal game at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, the women are ready to get back to work to defend their Paralympic title.
“For a lot of us, it fueled the fire,” Ryan said. “We were so close -- a three point game. Those are even harder to chew, and it encouraged us to train even harder. We really haven’t had an off season since then.”
With the loss in Lima, the Paralympic hopefuls continued to work towards their goals. Both Aslakson and Ryan train in Tucson, Arizona, at the University of Arizona, where Ryan is an assistant coach for the women’s wheelchair basketball team and Asklasan plays.
Aslakson became interested in wheelchair basketball in her home state of Minnesota. After she tried multiple sports, a coach told her she’d be great at wheelchair basketball. She’s been with the national team since 2017.
After a winding road that saw stops at the University of Texas at Arlington and New York University, Aslakson moved to Arizona to finish her final year of eligibility and play for Ryan, who also played wheelchair basketball at Arizona. Aslakson enjoys the challenge of both playing for Ryan and alongside her.
“I know I’m quiet, but I’m trying to be more aggressive,” Aslakson said. “I’m still learning a lot about that at Arizona because we have a younger group, and I’m trying to translate that here.”
Ryan, who considers herself somewhat the opposite of her teammate, is an aggressive player who has always thrived with contact sports. After her injury in 2010, she looked to sport and team camaraderie. Wheelchair basketball has been the answer since then, and she’s grateful to the Team USA women who came before her.
Being part of the selected Tokyo 2020 team has only deepened her appreciation for where she is now and the women who paved the way. She looks forward to carrying on that legacy.
“All those legends before us are such great cheerleaders for us,” Ryan said. “And they want us to get out there and do our best. That’s so motivating to have someone like Christina Schwab or Alana Nichols supporting us.”
Aslakson echoed Ryans sentiments, adding that she feels the pressure to represent her country and former wheelchair basketball players, but it’s in the best - and most motivating - way possible.
“They’ve all come from this point where we are now,” Aslakson said. “They’ve all been through a moment where they’re entering their first Paralympics. It’s overwhelming when you think of it that way, but it also makes you want to work harder.”
The road to Tokyo begins in April, as the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team starts friendly competition.