Military People Sports

Wheelchair athlete brings home gold medal in recent games

Gen X kids grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s, but on Saturday afternoons, Jim McKay’s voice called out.

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports — the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat — the human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” the Emmy-Award winning sportscaster said in his dramatic introduction, luring Dr. Lisa Maddox to the TV.

Four decades later, the Grovetown resident knows about the constant variety of sports, most recently competing in multiple events including pickleball, air rifle, slalom and softball at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games July 4-9 in Portland, Ore.

Lisa Maddox, right, plays tough defense at the wheelchair rugby league clinic at Patriots Park in Grovetown, Ga. on July 15, 2023. Mike Adams/Augusta Good News.

She brought home a gold medal in pickleball in the sport’s debut at the games, and her softball team narrowly missed out on a bronze medal. But Maddox’s play at first base drew her enough votes to be part of the National Veterans Wheelchair All-Star team at the Wheelchair Softball World Series Aug. 3-5 in Chicago.

The youngest of three children, with 10 years separating her and her eldest brother, Frank, Maddox, Lisa Maddox always wanted to do what her older brothers were doing, and that meant playing sports.

Tennis was one of those sports she saw on Wide World of Sports and it was Frank really wanted to play.

“I wanted to play, but there wasn’t anywhere around here to learn. I got involved with other things,” said Maddox, a graduate of Aquinas High School, where she played softball, basketball and with the boy’s baseball team.

Click on advertisement for more information.

After graduating high school, she went to the United States Military Academy West Point, where she played basketball her freshman year. She pursued her dream of becoming a doctor and put some of those athletic goals on the backburner.

 In 2006, she lost her left leg above her knee to Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. Adjusting to life meant relearning to play sports.

 “Wheelchair basketball is the inaugural sport, and then you break off into other things,” said Maddox, who, in 2008, was living in the Washington, D.C. metro area when she took up wheelchair athletics.

Maddox quickly knew that the sport she’d played in high school wasn’t going to work for her.

“I sucked at it,” she said and laughed. “If you’re an offensive-minded player, you use your legs to shoot; your arms are to guide the ball. When you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t use your legs. It showed me how weak my upper body was.”

Lisa Maddox at the 2021 Midwest Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Photo courtesy the Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports Facebook page

She also found out that wheelchair basketball was a little on the dangerous side.

“In a serious wheelchair basketball game, at least two to three times a game, someone’s chair flips over. They train on how to flip over and back up in one motion,” she said.

After about two seasons of playing basketball, she tried the one sport that intrigued her as a child – tennis.

Wheelchair tennis is a largely mental game with direct correlations between how much effort an athlete puts in and how well that person does on the court.

Click on advertisement for more information.

 “Someone who doesn’t hit the proper strokes and doesn’t have the proper this or that, but mentally, if they’re good — they will beat you,” she said. “You figure out for yourself what mental toughness is for you, and that’s probably 90% of it.”

Tennis has been Maddox’s go-to sport ever since. In 2017, she was the No. 1 women’s amateur player in wheelchair tennis. Over the course of four years, she was on the winning side of 17 singles and doubles tournaments. She’s playing in a tournament at Clemson the weekend of July 21-23.

But the athlete in her who watched the variety of sports likes to push her body and her capabilities. She was introduced to wheelchair curling several years ago at a sports clinic, and she joined a league in Charlotte, N.C. in 2019.

As with many wheelchair sports, the rules are adapted to accommodate the athletes. Putting a wheelchair on ice has its own inherent dangers. Sweeping is a major part of non-wheelchair curling, but that doesn’t exist in wheelchair curling. The physics of it is dangerous even if the wheelchair’s wheels are locked.

Dr. Lisa Maddox travels to Charlotte, N.C. to participate in curling. Courtesy of Lisa Maddox

Also, they play on textured ice to add some friction. Someone often stands and helps steady the wheelchair during play. Precision is key in wheelchair curling.

“Professional bowlers never aim at the front pin. They hook it and that’s what curling is,” she said.

The object is to get the stone closest to the center of the target.

 “The skipper gives you a target, reads the ice, reads the speed, and your job is to do what the skipper has asked you to do,” she said.

Curling has opened a lot of doors for Maddox. In October 2022, she traveled to Prague, where she and her team were part of the Czech Republic Bonspiel (tournament). They finished sixth out of 10, competing against teams from several countries including Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland and Kazakhstan.

While in Europe, she took a side trip to Normandy, France, which she likened to a pilgrimage for veterans.

“Had it not been for D-Day, I don’t know if we’d be speaking English here. There were so many little things that had to go right for D-Day to be successful,” she said of the awe-inspiring trip.

Lisa Maddox, right, works on her endurance during practice at the wheelchair rugby league clinic at Patriots Park in Grovetown, Ga. on July 15, 2023. Mike Adams/Augusta Good News.

 Within the past month, Maddox has added two more sports to her roster. She plays wheelchair softball and wheelchair rugby league, as opposed to quad rugby which is also dubbed murderball. In rugby league, participants use a traditional rugby ball. In quad rugby they use a round ball.

“I loved it,” she said of rugby. She helped bring a rugby league clinic to Patriots Park July 15 with USA National coaches. There are hopes of having a competitive team in Augusta. “It’s the most satisfying, gratifying sport.”

At one time, Maddox said she had hopes of becoming a Paralympian, but now, she does it for the love of the game.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!