CHICAGO — With every dribble, every pass and every shot, memories were made on the UIC Flames Athletics Center floor during a recent October morning.
“It’s amazing I just met someone named Keith, he’s in a wheelchair. Just to see the smile on his face is everything to me,” said UIC senior forward/guard Jaida McCloud.
“It was an honor to play with them,” said Keith Johnson Jr., a Beautiful Lives Project participant. “I had so much fun can’t describe it.”
19-year-old Johnson Jr. was one of 50 adults and kids with disabilities playing the game with the UIC women’s basketball team as part of a recent event hosted by the non-profit Beautiful Lives Project, co-founded by Claremont, Illinois native Bryce Weiler.
“I wanted to found the Beautiful Lives Project after sitting on the Evansville Aces men’s basketball bench at the invitation of former head coach Marty Simmons. Sitting on Evansville’s bench changed my life and got me to experience college basketball,” Weiler said. “I wanted to allow adults and children of any disability to have similar experiences in sports and create lifelong friendships and have opportunities to engage with players and coaches.”
Weiler, who is blind, plans events at college campuses throughout the country, impacting the lives of the players and coaches as much as the participants.
“This always makes me look at myself in the mirror and to stop complaining about everything I have going on,” said UIC senior guard Keimari Rimmer.
The goal of the Beautiful Lives Project is to break down barriers and biases, focusing less on limitation, and more on the power of possibility.
“They were encouraging us telling us we can do it,” Johnson Jr. said. “They always say don’t say you can’t, say you can.”
“First of all, the group of people we are working with today they are amazing. Smiles, energy, they are everything we asked for from my players at practice every day,” said UIC head coach Ashleen Bracey. “To see the players match that and be in their element and having fun with them, it’s why you coach, these types of experiences.”