Special to AFN

Many athletes dream of representing their country at the top of their sport.

Recently, 2014 Desert Vista High School graduate Joe Underwood did just that at the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation Men’s U23 World Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Toronto, Canada.

“It’s the best opportunity any athlete could ask for,” Underwood said. “Being able to wear USA on your uniform is a dream for so many athletes.”

It’s a dream he has been pursuing since he started playing when he was 8 years old. A family friend recommended Arizona Disabled Sports, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing sports and recreation opportunities for individuals with all types of disabilities.

Underwood played wheelchair basketball throughout high school on a travel team for AZDS.

He represented the U. S. at a World Championship swimming meet in Pasadena, California, the summer before his freshman year at the University of Missouri.

It was at Mizzou that he met his current coach, Ron Lykins.

“He has been the coach for multiple USA teams and had a lot of influence getting me and my two of my other teammates good enough to try out and make the U23 national team,” Underwood said.

The team qualified for the world championships by going undefeated at the qualifying tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Unfortunately, the team’s time in Toronto did not go as well for the United States representatives.

The team lost to Great Britain, then fell to Germany, Japan, and France.

The U.S. team left Toronto on a high note with double-digit victories in its final two games. It defeated Italy by a score of 65-48, and blew out South Africa 76-17.

Underwood learned a valuable lesson.

“It was definitely a learning experience I would say,” Underwood said. “Going against those guys made me realize how much I still have to work on.”

Underwood is a psychology major and is also pursuing a minor in Spanish. But, his dreams don’t stop there.

“I plan to get a master’s and PhD in counseling psychology with an emphasis in sports psychology,” he explained.  “I want to be a sports psychologist after school.”

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