Patrick Finley: UA college boasts 2 wheelchair hoops stars

2012-08-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:06:20Z Patrick Finley: UA college boasts 2 wheelchair hoops starsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Over lunch at Pastiche last month, members of the UA College of Pharmacy introduced Jenn Poist to Renee Tyree.

The 24-year age gap notwithstanding, it was like looking in a mirror.

After all, what are the odds that two members of the UA College of Pharmacy would reach the Paralympics?

In the same sport, wheelchair basketball?

While playing the same guard position?

And wearing the same number, 13?

Tyree, 47, showed Poist the three Paralympic medals - one gold, one silver and one bronze - she earned before retiring in 2004. The doctor is now the director of pharmacy for HealthSouth East Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Mesa.

Poist, 23, is making her Paralympics debut while juggling the rigors of pharmacy school.

"When I get stressed out at school, I play basketball," Poist said. "When I get stressed out about basketball, I study."

She has a UA undergrad degree and is two years into the four-year pharmacy program, which produces doctors whose salaries can reach $100,000 immediately out of college. Tyree wants her to eventually do rounds at her hospital.

Poist - who has a "pi" symbol tattooed on her wrist, a nod to her 3/14 birthday - has lightened her course load this semester because of the Games.

She leaves for London on Thursday, the first week of the school year, and will play her first game Aug. 30.

"For me," Poist said, "it's the beginning of the journey."

It started, though, with Tyree.

Over lunch, the two talked about the evolution of the UA, the sport and their professions.

Tyree became paralyzed after contracting transverse myelitis, an inflaming of the spinal cord, as a student at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She transferred to the UA, wowed by Tucson's accessibility and warm weather.

Tyree received her undergrad degree at the UA in 1988 and her pharmacy degree in 1993, taking 1992 off to play in the Barcelona Games.

Not that it was easy. She was the first female to play on the Wildcats wheelchair basketball team - there weren't women's adaptive athletic teams here yet - after the men "did everything they could to try to get me to quit."

She pled just to be allowed to work in the chemistry lab on campus; the UA relented only after assigning her an assistant.

"There was this perception of being a fire hazard," she said.

She was an elite athlete, yet the UA thought she couldn't maneuver her chair in case of a fire.

"Obviously," she said, "I don't spontaneously combust."

Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

A generation later, Poist had always assumed she'd end up in the medical field, at the insistence of her mom, a dental hygienist.

"Plus," she said, "I spent a lot of time in the hospital when I was younger."

Poist woke up from a nap at age 7, unable to walk. Doctors found a tumor on her spine, and, after surgery, said she'd likely never walk again.

Soon after the diagnosis, Poist's little sister lost a three-year battle with cancer.

"I had a lot of interactions with doctors and nurses," she said. "I think that's definitely what pushed me."

As a teen, Poist focused her medical interests after working in a pharmacy with her best friend.

"Crazy how things work out," she said.

In McSherrystown, Pa., Poist felt strange as the only one in her small town using a wheelchair. Maybe that's why, for years, she commuted an hour each way to play for a wheelchair basketball team in Baltimore.

"I liked the social aspect of it," she said, "and meeting other people with disabilities."

Poist picked the UA because it was the only place in the country that had both an adaptive athletics program and a pharmacy school. She led the Wildcats to their first National Wheelchair Basketball Association national title in March.

Poist will come off the bench as a defensive specialist for the favored American team, which has won the last two golds.

"If we're on a medal stand," she said, "I'll be crying."

From home, Tyree might, too.

"It's just perfect," Tyree said. "Everything's been very parallel.

"I'm so proud. It speaks to the university, and it speaks a lot to Jenn."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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