Gail Gaeng was born with nerve damage and has used leg braces to assist with mobility from a very early age. But that didn’t stop her interest in sports. When she was in the 7th grade, the Frederick, Maryland resident started playing basketball. “My physical therapist told me about the Bennett Blazers, a wheelchair basketball team based at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore (a chapter of Disabled Sports USA),” she said. Gaeng immediately joined the junior team. She was on the team when it won their age division category at the Junior National Championship. In 2011, her senior year in high school at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, the team returned to the Championship game, only to lose by three points in overtime. Gaeng was the game’s leading scorer with 16 points and was named All Tournament Female.
Growing up, sports were an important part of her life. She played lacrosse and was even coached by her dad in basketball. “I come from a really big sports family,” Gaeng said. “All played at the collegiate level.” So it was no surprise when she began to get recruited by colleges. She ultimately decided on the University of Illinois, which has a thriving adaptive sports program. She rose to team captain, was a leading score, and ended up going to the collegiate championship game twice during her tenure there. “We never won it,” Gaeng said.
Starting in 2008, the shooting guard also tried out for the National Team, eventually becoming an alternate in 2012 and then making the team in 2013. One of her biggest life goals had finally been achieved. In 2014, she played in the Wheelchair Basketball World Championship tournament held in Toronto, Canada. Team USA finished fourth that year. The following year, at the Parapan American Games, she had the opportunity to win gold.
“When I made the transition to Team USA, I had to reinvent myself,” Gaeng said. She went from playing the traditional shooting guard position to more of a cleanup role. She was happy to do her part for the team, which won the Gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio. She was also selected by her teammates to serve as Co-Captain for Team USA. “Having that honor was amazing.”
Gaeng hasn’t made any decisions on whether to go for the Gold again in 2020. Right now, the college graduate with a degree in business (marketing and management) is taking some time off and focusing on her role as a sales consultant for Gartner in the firm’s Chicago office. She is playing on a recreational men’s basketball team in Chicago and is trying out the sport of sled hockey through the Chicago Blackhawks Sled Hockey program, which is sponsored by the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, another chapter of Disabled Sports USA.