Ginessa Aguirre is a spunky 10-year-old with a long brown ponytail who likes making slime, watching YouTube and cuddling with her cat, Smokey. She also likes cooking and baking with her mom, Nora.
But what Ginessa likes most is playing basketball.
“I like to steal the ball,” she said.
Ginessa plays for the Junior Pacers Prep Team, one of 15 competitive teams offered by Mary Free Bed Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports for children and adults with physical disabilities.
Ginessa was just three years old when she sustained a spinal cord injury in a tragic automobile accident in December 2010 near her hometown of Hartford. She was hospitalized at Bronson Methodist Hospital for a week before being transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for rehabilitation. She spent one month in the inpatient Pediatric Program and the next seven months receiving outpatient care.
“We literally lived at the Mary Free Bed Inn the entire time Ginessa was a patient,” Nora said. “We are so grateful we were able to stay there so Ginessa could get all the therapy she could.”
As she grew, so did Ginessa’s interest in sports. She played softball, basketball and bowled with a hometown program for children with special needs.
“The sports weren’t wheelchair-adapted, so she was discouraged and quit playing,” Nora said. “When she tried wheelchair basketball, she didn’t want to play anything else. Every player plays in a wheelchair. This is big to her, because she sees it as fair play.
“She is very competitive when she plays, and she likes being noticed on the court by others as an aggressive player.”
Mary Free Bed’s Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports program is one of the largest of its kind in the United States, serving more than 1,200 people annually through competitive teams, clinics, classes and events.
The Aguirres — including Ginessa’s father, Gerardo, and sometimes her older siblings – travel nearly two hours from Hartford to Grand Rapids for Ginessa’s once-a-week practices with the Junior Pacers, plus tournaments across Michigan and out-of-state.
The practices typically follow recreational therapy sessions in the Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Mary Free Bed.
“Wheelchair basketball is what she looks forward to,” Nora said. “It makes her extremely happy.”
With support from her family as well as her Mary Free Bed family, Ginessa is thriving.
“Our biggest hope for Ginessa is for her to grow into an independent woman who doesn’t let anything or anyone get in her way,” Nora said. “She is strong and positive, willing to try new things, and always has a smile on her beautiful face.”