'August Madness' sweeps Triangle for a good cause

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The 4th Annual Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Benefits Bridge II Sports

No brackets were busted, but a chance to show off skills and trash talk filled the courts at PNC arena Monday afternoon for the 4th annual August Madness wheelchair basketball tournament.

The competitive tournament serves as a fundraiser for Bridge II Sports, a Durham-based non-profit that helps those with disabilities, mental or physical, through adaptive sports.

"We are in the Triangle, and we do have the best basketball in the country," said founder and executive director Ashley Thomas. Thomas was born with spina bifida and founded the group in 2007 as a physical outlet for those like herself.

"Internally, I always just had this energy, and there was no way to release it," she said. "When I had my first cardio workout at age 41, it was like, 'What in the world is this? This is awesome!'"

"A lot of people in wheelchairs don't know about the sports and everything that's going on," said second-year participant Anthony Stroud. "This right here, it kind of gets those that don't know and want to get them involved, and once you get our here and do it, it's awesome."

Stroud was injured in a car accident, and through Bridge II Sports he says he's met other athletes like himself - some either born with a disability or suffered during combat.

"When I first started playing, I could barely transfer to a chair, so just watching the other guys and how they move, it makes me want to be better at what I'm doing," he said. "We looked like all-stars out there, and I'm not bragging because there are some tougher teams out there, definitely."

August Madness also featured a few area All-stars, like former NC State basketball player Josh Powell, lending a helping hand on and off the court.

"I'm close with some of the people that were here, so I always have fun and a good time," Powell said. "This is also still a learning experience to see what everybody's going through. You know, it's very motivational for myself, as well."
The influence continues to rub off on other athletes involved with the organization.

"I remember one athlete said, 'They're just like me, except they play in a wheel chair,' and it was like, 'Yes!'" Thomas said.

Through this tournament, Bridge II Sports aims to bridge a gap, and Thomas hopes the organization can change certain perceptions held about those with disabilities.

"You end up shifting the attitude of, 'Oh, poor people,' and 'Uh,' to 'Wow, this is awesome! Everybody can play.'"

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