The Turkana Kid makes good

Abandoned by his mother after he contracted polio as an infant, T.K. Dannelley followed a winding path from Kenya to UTA, where he became a three-time All-America wheelchair basketball player.

T.K. Dannelley

T.K. Dannelley had polio as an infant and has never walked. He doesn't remember his birth mother, who left him at a mission when he was a baby. Yet the 28-year-old Kenya native insists he wouldn't change a thing about his life.

"I believe everything happens for a reason," said Dannelley, a three-time All-America wheelchair basketball player at UTA.

"Through basketball, I've been able to do a lot of things. I've been on the U.S. national team. If I were standing up, there's no way I would have been on that team—no way.

"A lot of people dream of playing sports on the collegiate level. I'm definitely blessed because I've had a lot of opportunities that most people haven't had."

The road that led to those opportunities, however, has been tortuous.

Born Ekutan Loyan during a drought year in Turkana, Kenya, Dannelley is almost certain that his illness influenced his mother's decision to leave him at a mission near Nairobi.

"She saw me with polio and wasn't sure how to handle it or react to it," he said. "She probably thought the best thing was to leave me there so the missionaries could take care of me."

If that was his mother's plan, it worked.

Mennonite missionaries Jay and Sylvia Dannelley, who were stationed nearby, learned about T.K. in a church bulletin and began visiting him on weekends. Jay grew attached to the youngster but had trouble saying Ekutan, so he called him the Turkana Kid. The nickname stuck and was shortened to T.K. The Dannelleys eventually adopted young Ekutan as well as a daughter, Nichi, from the Turkana tribe.

"T.K. has a very winsome personality," said Sylvia Dannelley, now an educational diagnostician in Pecos, Texas. "He never complained about the fact that he had to deal with this (polio). There wasn't anything he wouldn't try. He tried to play soccer, to climb trees, to ride a bike. Nothing was going to stand in his way."

In 1989 the family moved to Lancaster, Pa., where T.K. attended a private high school for Mennonites, a branch of the Amish faith. Shortly after he graduated, his family moved to Pecos, but Dannelley stayed in Pennsylvania to study electronics at a trade school in Johnstown. While working on his associate's degree, he began playing basketball for the Chariot Express, a wheelchair team based in Harrisburg.

Three years later, he packed everything he owned into his Geo Metro and headed for West Texas to join his parents. On the way, he detoured by Arlington to check out the Movin' Mavs. "I'd heard about the team and how good they were," he said.

After a short stay at Midland College, Dannelley enrolled at UTA on a basketball scholarship and became a mainstay on the wheelchair team for the next five years. He was a member of the 1997 national championship team and earned All-America honors in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

"When T.K. finished his eligibility, it was like graduating a son," said Movin' Mavs coach Jim Hayes, who calls Dannelley the purest perimeter shooter he has ever coached. "There's something unique about him. His spirituality, depth, work ethic and respect for people of all backgrounds is unheard of in kids these days."

Now that his playing days are over, Dannelley, a senior media arts major, spends his summers teaching basketball to disabled children in Africa. His message is inspirational.

"When I get up in the morning, I thank God for another day," he tells them. "I try to emphasize that just because you're in a chair, life doesn't stop. I wouldn't trade anything about my life."


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