But this was no ordinary All-Star game. And Donaghy is no ordinary All-Star.In 1987, Donaghy was shot in the head during a robbery attempt on his way to his Bronx home after working a double shift with Con Edison. He managed to survive the bullet's damage to his brain and skull, but he has since been paralyzed from his knees down - progress that was only achieved through years of rehabilitation."I was waiting up against a bus stop and these crack heads (took my money), shot me, and left me for dead," Donaghy said of the robbery that cost him $68 and the chance to ever walk again.His life has not been the same since that day 18 years ago - but, believe it or not, he might say his life has only gotten better.Donaghy is the captain of the United Spinal Association Nets, one of the teams that competes in the Eastern Wheelchair Basketball Conference, and is also the Program Manager of the Sports and Recreation division of United Spinal. He has dedicated his life to helping others discover their love for sports and make them realize that even in a wheelchair they can compete in athletics that anyone with full mobility can."(When) I found wheelchair sports, it took me to another level," said Donaghy, known as 'Paddy D' by his friends and colleagues.But the idea of sports in his current state was foreign to Donaghy and to many others at the time, as well. That is until his rehabilitation therapist at New York University asked him if was interested in playing basketball."How am I going to play basketball?" Donaghy said he asked his doctor at the time. "I'm in a wheelchair."His doctor persisted and Donaghy learned through rigorous training how to compete at a high level of the sport, despite being confined to a wheelchair. Basketball was a gateway into other sports and for a time Donaghy was even the top-ranked wheelchair tennis player on the East Coast.Donaghy, 42, started working for Jackson Heights-based United Spinal in 1995 and his work there got the attention of the United States Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Team. They selected him to compete on their squad in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, Ga. and later that year he toured Italy with the U.S. National Team, as well."It was such an honor," Donaghy said. "I lost my father that year and I actually played and tried out for him."Donaghy's father was a potential Olympic runner, but failed to earn a spot on the U.S. team at the Olympic Trials."I said (to myself), 'I need to do this for my father,'" Donaghy said of trying out for the Paralympic Team.Donaghy did end up making the team after two weeks of rigorous try-outs in Colorado where he lost 20 pounds. He helped the U.S. squad win the bronze medal in Atlanta and led the National Team to an 11-1 record in Italy that summer."It was such an honor to be on the United States team," Donaghy said, "especially when they play the National Anthem. You're representing (the U.S.), you're wearing their jersey. The hairs on my arms actually stood up."Now Donaghy spends most of his time in an office when he is not playing for the United Spinal Nets. His competitive fire is far from gone, as his teammates and opponents would attest. But Paddy D knows what is really important in his life - helping people who were just like him 18 years ago."I love what I'm doing," Donaghy said. "I help veterans and everyone else who has a disability, so that's how it changed my life. It has enlightened me to help other people; it's given me a job. I just love what I do. I love helping people and I love my job. That's the bottom line."It's a pretty good day when you can wake up, go to work and say you love your job."His life has never been better.Reach contributing writer Marc Raimondi by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2005 Community News Group
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