The Heart of a Champion
Story by Evan Heller, Buckeye Council
It would have been like watching a scene from a movie—if I’d had time to think about it.
With 10 seconds left in a hard-fought basketball game, my team of underdogs was tied with the tournament’s top seed. Nobody expected us to hang with them this close, yet now we were within a single basket of a huge upset. We were oblivious to the pressure, oblivious to the crowd, oblivious to the sweat, just playing our game. I wheeled into position, and a teammate passed me the ball as he’d done hundreds of times in practice. The basket was in sight. I drew up to shoot. And time stopped.
All 10 wheelchair basketball players on the court turned expectantly to follow the ball as it rose from my hands toward the basket, tumbling as it sailed through the air. An eternity seemed to pass as the ball approached the rim. It passed almost silently through the hoop, dropping to the court untouched as time expired and the horn blared to end the game—with the underdogs on top. We had won the biggest matchup in team history, and my shot had sealed it!
DISCOVERING A PASSION
I basically grew up in Scouting. When I was very young, my mom was a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, and while she was in classrooms signing up new Cub Scouts, I was there. As soon as I was old enough, I joined Scouting. We had just moved to a new town, and I had no friends or family nearby. Scouting helped me meet people I could relate to. My den did everything together, from outside adventures to hands-on crafts and hobbies, and we learned important lessons like working as a team without even realizing it. I discovered that if I focus my competitive fire, I could become a Pinewood Derby ace. The opportunities I found through Scouting gave me experiences I would have missed otherwise. You see, I was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that makes walking very difficult for me, so I didn’t do much in the way of sports until I discovered archery at Scout camp at Woodland Trails Scout Reservation in Hilliard, Ohio. The smothering heat of that summer didn’t get in my way; I loved the feel and the power of the draw, aim, and shoot, and as my skills grew, so did my confidence.
When I returned home, I practiced constantly with the bow I received for my birthday. I can still remember the bright yellow fletching on the arrows and the sting of the bow strike against my forearm, and through all those hours of practice, I realized something: I wanted to share this awesome sport with other kids. So, I volunteered to teach archery the following year at Cub Scout day camp in Delaware, Ohio. There’s no better feeling when a Scout you’re coaching hits his first target. I knew I wanted to experience that feeling again and again. Helping other kids became my passion, but I knew I had other goals to conquer first.
PRACTICING MY GAME
As a teen, I discovered wheelchair basketball. With the discipline and leadership skills I had learned throughout my lifetime as a Scout, I emerged as a natural leader on the team. I joined my high school wheelchair basketball team, becoming one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation and leading my team to a 54-0 record and three straight state titles. When signing day came, I decided to continue my basketball career and education at Auburn University. I also am aiming higher, training to try out next year for the USA Men’s National team with a goal of earning a spot to compete at the U23 World Championships in Japan in 2022. After that, I plan to play professionally in Europe and work to earn a spot on Team USA to compete in the Paralympics before beginning a career that fulfills another lifelong goal.
I also am aiming higher, training to try out next year for the USA Men’s National team with a goal of earning a spot to compete at the U23 World Championships in Japan in 2022. After that, I plan to play professionally in Europe and work to earn a spot on Team USA to compete in the Paralympics before beginning a career that fulfills another lifelong goal. – Evan Heller
SINKING THE SHOT
I have made the most of the opportunities I had through Scouting, and I continue to capitalize on what I learn from so many different types of incredible people I have met. No matter what happens after college, my plans definitely include a career that was presented to me directly from a strong Scouting influence. Teaching archery to Scouts at camp really opened my eyes to how I wanted to help people throughout my life. Outside of basketball practice at Auburn, I am pursuing a degree in special education to make my goals a reality. Being a Scout has helped me succeed throughout my life, even when challenges in my physical ability made it appear to be a near impossibility. Scouting gave me the chance to compete and to feel the rush of winning—and I like to win! My plan is to pay that blessing forward. Because I am a Scout, I’m not the underdog. I am a champion.
Evan, thank you for telling your Scouting story! We wish you the best in your pursuit of a Division I crown and a spot on the USA National wheelchair basketball team.
Special thanks to our donors and alumni who believe in the potential for our local camps and councils to open doors for young people to learn, excel, and set out on a path toward their futures. Evan’s story is unique, as are the stories of thousands of other young people whose successes are directly tied to their Scouting experience. You continue to make that happen with your unwavering support.
About Evan Heller
Evan is a scholarship freshman scholar/athlete at Auburn University, where he is a member of the wheelchair basketball team. In addition to the Scouting program, Evan credits his mother, Buckeye Council Senior District Director Amy Heller, as being the mentor who had the most impact on his life.
All photos courtesy of Amy Heller