CHICAGO -- On an old court at Chicago Park District's Mann Park, a fresh face is breathing new life into the game of basketball.
At the age of 13, Ixhelt Gonzalez is the youngest in the country invited to try out for a spot on the U.S. women's wheelchair basketball team this year.
"It's a big responsibility for me to go out there and show what I can do against the girls that are like collegiate level," Ixhelt said.
Ixhelt was diagnosed with femoral anteversion as a toddler, a condition where her hip and thigh bones rotate inward. Her older brother Guillermo has cerebral palsy. Refusing to sideline her kids, their mom Tomasa signed both up for the Chicago Park District's Adaptive Sports Basketball Team, the Chicago Skyhawks. The program teaches kids to take the hard hits and stay up, honing in on what they can do, rather than what they can't.
Skyhawks coach Daniel Ferreira says he's been coaching for 30 years, and he's been Ixhelt's coach since she joined the program at age seven. Ferreira says he knew early on that Ixhelt was naturally talented, and he's not surprised at all that she's been asked to try out for the U.S. team.
Her skills caught the attention of the National Women's Wheelchair Basketball coaches this fall, who asked Ixhelt to make the trip to Colorado next week to try for a spot on the team. If she makes the 12-player roster, she will compete in Germany this summer and likely compete in the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo.
Ixhelt says she has had her heart on playing on the U.S. Women's Paralympic team since they took gold in Rio back in 2016. She says making the roster would be a win not just for her, but also for her brother and Skyhawk teammates who have been on the court with her since she was a kid.
The Chicago Park District's adaptive sports participation has increased over 30 percent just in the last few years with programs at 18 of their sites. More information on the Chicago Park District's special recreation programs is available online.
Ixhelt Gonzales's family is also working to raise money to buy her a basketball regulation wheelchair of her own on GoFundMe.