In the presence of greatness—and rightly so
Two prestigious award nominations place senior Paul Schulte alongside the world's foremost athletes
Don’t even think about comparing “what I did on my summer vacation” notes with former UTA wheelchair basketball star Paul Schulte. His summer beach parties were in Monte Carlo and Hollywood, where he shared the spotlight with world-class athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
In late May, Paul and wife Meghan traveled to Monte Carlo for the Laureus World Sports Awards; he was nominated in the World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability category. Established three years ago, the awards honor the world’s best athletes across all sports and all countries. The 2003 World Sportsman of the Year was Lance Armstrong, with Serena Williams named World Sportswoman of the Year.
It’s a big deal, but until he was nominated Schulte had never heard the word Laureus.
“One day in March, right after we finished the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, my dad called. He said that I had been nominated for some kind of award. He thought it might be important, but I kind of blew it off at the time. We had just won the national tournament!”
Then Schulte, a 24-year-old mechanical engineering major, checked the Laureus Web site and saw a long list of international sports icons. Winners of the awards are selected by the Laureus World Sports Academy, whose membership includes legendary sports figures Jordan, Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Nadia Comaneci and Greg LeMond.
Still, when he realized that the awards ceremony would be in Monte Carlo, Schulte almost ignored the invitation.
“I thought, ‘We can’t afford to go anywhere.’ But I decided to call anyway. I told the lady, ‘I’m sorry. We’re college students, I don’t think we can afford to come.’ She just said, ‘Don’t be silly. Now spell your wife’s name for me. We’ll send you the tickets and you’ll stay in a five-star hotel.’
“So there we were, just a couple of young college students, off to stay at the most expensive place on Earth and mingle with the biggest names in sports.”
Although Schulte didn’t win the Laureus—Australian Michael Milton, a disabled alpine skier, did—just to be in the company of so many champions was a thrill.
And Schulte belongs among the champions. In one year, he accomplished something no other wheelchair basketball player has done. The hot streak began in spring 2002 when the UTA Movin’ Mavs won the collegiate national championship. Schulte was named tournament MVP, received the sportsmanship award and was named an Academic All-American.
He followed the collegiate championship with a world championship, playing on the U.S. team for the Gold Cup in Japan. Again, he was named tournament MVP, the youngest player ever to be so honored.
A year later, his college playing eligibility used up, Schulte won the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament championship with the Dallas Mavericks and was named to the all-tournament team.
After three championships in one year, the sports world began to take notice. The Schultes’ summer vacation travels, which began in Monte Carlo, moved on to Los Angeles, where he was nominated for the Best Disabled Athlete ESPY award presented by ESPN. And though he didn’t win the ESPY, either—amputee track star Marlon Shirley received it—the couple again moved among the sports world’s elite.
“It’s all been pretty terrific, actually,” said Schulte’s father, Thomas. “We hoped he would win, but what the heck, he only led the Dallas Mavericks to the national championship, Team USA to a gold medal and the Movin’ Mavs to a collegiate championship.
“He’s a remarkable young man, very dedicated, and a pretty marvelous example of what can be done if you just believe there are no obstacles.”
Schulte, paralyzed in a car accident one day after his 10th birthday, began playing wheelchair basketball at age 14. He was one of the nation’s top two recruits out of high school and chose UTA, in part, because it offered him a full scholarship to play basketball.
His daily workout often includes more than 1,600 shots at the basket. He views his disability as a blessing, not a tragedy, and he intends to continue striving and improving.
“You know,” he said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
– Sherry Wodraska Neaves