With the opening ceremony and games of that once-every-four-years-event just hours away (and the Paralympic games about a month later in August), RSVLTS is proud to spotlight one of the driving forces behind the NWBA (National Wheelchair Basketball Association), previously as a collegiate and professional athlete (ah-hem, World Championship Gold Medalist, 2x Paralympic Bronze Medalist) and current C.E.O. - Will Waller.
We first caught up with Will a few years ago when current player Nate Hinze introduced the idea of a collaboration between the two brands. This kicked-off an incredible series of meetings between the groups, multiple video chats before and throughout COVID, photo/video shoots and more, all with the goal to drill down to the core of how RSVLTS & NWBA together could help make a difference among its athletes.
This was then and will continue to be a commitment RSVLTS is dedicated to pursuing. All funds raised by way of the Dare Mighty Things/USA Crest x NWBA apparel is just one element, with general awareness of the NWBA organization and its many programs and offerings being just as important in terms of reach and, ultimately, impact.
Stay tuned for more updates and other player profiles to follow, with the second capsule dropping next week, but let’s pass the torch over to the man himself to provide some additional insight.
Over to you, Will:
It’s a special year obviously, with Tokyo on the horizon and some elite men's/women's players heading to rep the U.S., but tell us a little more about the NWBA, its programming and its athletes?
- Our National Teams are one of our most visible groups that we get to put on display to show the skills of our most gifted talent. However, the NWBA has been providing programming for non-Paralympians for 72 years. We originally were formed as a way to support injured Veterans in their rehabilitation process. That quickly expanded and eventually got us to where we are today, providing a sporting platform for all gender/orientations, ages 5-65; veterans and civilians; grassroots through elite skills...paralympians AND future paralympians.
How did you personally get involved with the NWBA?
- I was shot when I was 18, and became severely depressed. I was embarrassed by my wheelchair and how I ended up in my wheelchair (too many mistakes to mention). It wasn’t until I tried wheelchair basketball two years later, on a Wednesday night in the summer of ’94, that I began to feel ok and snapped out of my depression. The sport became the foundation of a turnaround story that is still being written. I owe everything to this game.
What will be some of the initiatives the RSVLTS funds will help create/support?
- COVID has wreaked havoc on our organization financially, like most sports organizations and we are slowly working our way out of it. To call this collaboration with RSVLTS a game-changer would be an understatement. The funding will go towards getting our target audience (people with disabilities) back into the game. COVID also kept people at home and in their own heads. This money will help to provide programming: camps, clinics and other capability building opportunities. Before COVID, we know the top barriers to inclusion in our sport were cost of equipment and distance of competition. We want to get more people in the game than we had before COVID, and we want that to include more females and more at-risk populations. I’m a city guy, born and raised, and I know how hard it was for me to get access to a chair and to a program. That problem still exists 27 years later, no matter where people live!
What’s next for NWBA, how will it evolve?
- We will evolve by helping to spread the word about the sport and the opportunities that exist with its programs. One of the other benefits of RSVLTS and other like-minded organizations as collaborators, is that we can use your platform as a bullhorn to talk about how the NWBA has been changing lives since 1949 and our resolve to grow faster than ever before. When you think about RSVLTS, you all lean in to the slogan “Dare Mighty Things!”. I couldn’t think of anything more bold than saying, despite the pandemic and all the excuses, we are gonna grow this game and make it more visible than EVER before. We obviously want to do that in the most thoughtful way and we will absolutely work together toward that initiative.
What’s next for Will?
- Let me tell ya something, BROTHER (in my best Hulk Hogan voice), I’m not going anywhere. Next for me is to work on getting better at my job and fulfilling our Mission. Wheelchair basketball got me off of a deadly path and helped me achieve things people from my background very rarely do. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to leave this game better than I found it and push in the footsteps of Giants who came before me. I’m excited to keep telling this RSVLTS x NWBA story, because the potential that this collaboration presents is unquantifiable, and I don’t even know if that’s a word!