A disabled athlete gave New Albany middle-school students some perspective last week about diversity in sports and overcoming adversity.

A disabled athlete gave New Albany middle-school students some perspective last week about diversity in sports and overcoming adversity.

Students met Wednesday, March 24, with James Terpenning, a Paralympic gold medalist and a multisport wheelchair athlete, for a hands-on lesson in wheelchair basketball, softball and volleyball.

Mindy Bittner, a wellness teacher at New Albany Middle School, said she learned about Terpenning last fall after he and his family appeared on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

She heard his story -- the son of an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, Terpenning was abandoned as an infant in Vietnam and lost the use of his legs after contracting polio and being injured by shrapnel -- and thought he would be the perfect speaker for her students during their unit on diversity in sports.

"In eighth grade, we do a diversity unit, and the kids get a chance to research different athletes and then present it," Bittner said. "He does so much. It's something for the kids to understand."

The students listened to some stories about Terpenning's life and got a chance to try out some of the sports -- his way.

"Football, tennis, volleyball, rugby -- you name it and I've done it," Terpenning said.

Terpenning, who lives in Beavercreek, won gold and bronze medals in swimming in the 1988 Paralympics in Korea and set a world record. He competed as a swimmer again in 1992 and switched to volleyball for the 1996 and 2000 games.

Terpenning showed students how to play basketball while strapped into his wheelchair. He plays for the Ohio Rolling Hoopstars.

Instead of players taking two steps before they are considered "traveling," the wheelchair version allows players two pushes of their chairs. For three-point shots, only the two small back wheels of the chair must be behind the line.

"The way you steal the ball is from the back or when someone is trying to pass," Terpenning told the students.

A group of students -- including a couple who use wheelchairs -- got a chance to play a game with Terpenning in extra wheelchairs he brought.

Fourth-grader Michael Fenster, 10, shot a few baskets with Terpenning.

Fenster attended a wheelchair basketball clinic with the Miami Valley Association of Disabled Athletes last month.

"He has played sled hockey for several years," said Kelly Fenster, Michael's mother. "He loves basketball a lot. He's good with the ball."

Fenster said she is part of a group working to establish a junior wheelchair basketball league in central Ohio.

Terpenning also played volleyball with eighth-grader Lily Ng, 14.

"I was nervous," she said, because she didn't know how hard she should hit the ball. "He was really good."

Eighth-grader Kimberly Walden, 13, said she learned a lot from Terpenning's presentation.

"If I ever get hurt, I can keep playing," she said. "(The disabled) can play softball and volleyball. I didn't know that."

gmartineau@thisweeknews.com