When he was 11 years old, John Boie discovered what he wanted his future to hold. All that was left was to accomplish those goals. So Boie went to work.
It took 19 years of effort—and, thanks to COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 Paralympic Games, a year of waiting—for Boie to transform from a kid attending his first youth wheelchair basketball camp at UW-Whitewater to a 30-year-old at the top of the medals stand at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Team USA captured a repeat gold medal—but the first for Boie—with a 64-60 victory over host Japan in the gold medal game Sept. 5.
During the eight-game tournament run at the Paralympic Games, Boie had time to reflect on his achievements and prepare for the next test. When the job was complete, it was all Boie could handle.
“It hit me in waves, thinking about the accomplishments,” Boie said. “I was like a deer in headlights … (thinking) ‘Holy cow, I have a gold medal.’ I thought about how I’ve achieved the highest level—something I’ve been wanting to accomplish since I was, gosh, 11 or 12 years old.”
Boie, a defensive specialist, scored only six points over the tournament’s eight games. But four of them came in the second half against Japan.
“I made a jumper and then, after that, I hit a pretty crazy reverse layup,” said Boie, who added five rebounds and played 227 minutes out of the 320 played by Team USA.
“It felt good to step up and be able to contribute. My contributions aren’t always on the stats sheet. … My role is to play good defense and create shot opportunities for our bigger guys,” Boie said.
“I guess I was saving it for that game. … To make those shots when the team needed them, that felt good. I guess I was saving it for that game.”
And he did it with a broken finger.
“The very first play, I drew a charge. The guy landed on my hand and broke my finger,” Boie said. “I went back to the training center (and) they said it was a microfracture, that everything would come back. The care they had was pretty awesome.”
Boie feels the same way about the support he has received from folks in Whitewater, Milton, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“The support from hometown people was so great. There were so many people supporting me,” Boie said.
“At the Games, we basically played in an empty stadium due to COVID-19. We’d hit a big shot and there’d be no reaction. But then I’d finish a game and go shower up, and I’d look at my phone and there would be eight million messages.”
Basketball always had been a favorite of Boie’s. At age 6, he was involved in a tractor accident that left him with an incomplete spinal cord injury (T4/5). Eventually, he discovered that nearby UW-Whitewater had one of the nation’s longest running and successful collegiate wheelchair basketball programs—the Rollin’ Warhawks—which has won 16 national championships on the men’s side.
He attended a summer camp to introduce himself to the sport, and that was that.
“As soon as I went to the camp, I just fell in love with it,” Boie said. “I love the camaraderie of wheelchair basketball. You’re on a team with your peers who are dealing with a lot of the same disabilities.”
Boie attended UW-Whitewater and played for the Rollin’ Warhawks, who captured three national championships during his collegiate career.
But he said he was “the last person cut” from Team USA for the 2016 Rio Olympics, which only served to steel his determination to make the national team. He got the promotion in 2017 and played in a zone qualifying tournament, and competed on the silver medal-winning team in the 2018 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships in Hamburg, Germany. Team USA earned its spot in the Paralympic Games by winning the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, in 2019.
“You go from playing in high school and going to classes. You play in college and it ramps up a little bit. But to do it at this level, it’s a job,” Boie said. “It involves everything from hitting the weight room to the gym, working on the psychology of it, working with a strength coach. Plus, it’s building a team.”
Boie enjoyed instant familiarity with most of his teammates. After all, four others played at UW-Whitewater: Jake Williams of Milwaukee, Nate Hinze of Cedar Grove, Matt Lesperance of Coleman and Matt Scott of Detroit.
“There are no cliques on the team. We all get along together,” Boie said. “It’s fun to play with each other. A true brotherhood.”
Over the run of the tournament, Team USA’s depth and versatility proved to be a key to its gold-medal success.
“Some days some people are hot and other people are cold, and we can handle that,” Boie said. “Or the (an opponent) has a good quarter and the next one, we crush them with five fresh guys. It keeps everyone guessing.”
The most frustrating part of the entire process, Boie said, was the delay of the Games due to COVID-19. To add to the frustration, he underwent shoulder surgery last December and spent most of the time leading up to the Paralympic Games at the Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Boie is back home now—“watching the Packers, eating cheese curds, doing some deer hunting,” he said. He also has settled back into his job as an academic adviser at UW-Whitewater, advising 300 students and teaching 25 in a class for students who are the first in their family to attend college.
In a week or so, he’ll return to the court with the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Thunder club team, which often practices in Whitewater. And, he hopes, getting ready for Paris 2024.
“It was a long journey to make the team, to finally make it. And to grow into a starting role and become an impactful player is quite a journey,” Boie said. “It’s taken more than a decade to get there … and hopefully the journey isn’t finished yet.”