Wheelchair basketball player returns for 5th year to win national championship

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Abbey Crain

Mark Booth enjoys traveling. He has visited all 50 states, 17 European countries, Australia and Honduras. He has two national championship titles and will graduate in May. He was born with spina bifida, but says his wheelchair doesn’t define him – sarcasm does.

“I’ll open up a door for my self and some old lady will be like ‘you’re doing so good, just good job’ and I’m like, ‘thank you, I appreciate that, I can juggle too,’” Booth said.

A Los Gatos, Calif., native, Booth came to The University of Alabama to play on the wheelchair basketball team.

“When I was like 7, I was a bum and my parents needed to get me involved in something to get me off the couch, so they entered me into this junior wheelchair sports program in San Jose, California,” Booth said. “I kind of just liked basketball, that was my thing.”

When he was in eighth grade, his wheelchair basketball team won the junior national championship, possibly foreshadowing UA’s wheelchair national championship last week.

Edward Gray, a senior majoring in history and French, is one of Booth’s best friends after rooming together freshman year. Gray said he is very happy to know Booth, by the “blind luck” that is potluck roommates.

“None of my friends are particularly remarkable in the same way Mark is,” Gray said. “None of them are national champions in wheelchair basketball. Mark in that game, I mean, he had ice in his veins.”

Miles Thompson, UA’s men’s wheelchair basketball coach, said the recruiting class of seniors Mark Booth and Jared Arambula changed the culture of wheelchair basketball at the University, giving them a competitive edge. [Booth] could have graduated in four years, but he came back,” Thompson said. “He really wanted that fifth year for the right to earn a championship and for us to win a championship where he scored 18 points and Arambula scored 21 points, and that combo of them to see them go out like that, there was some poetic justice involved there.”

Booth said he has not had any problems getting around the UA campus and commends the Capstone’s Office of Disability Services for helping plan class schedules.

“Occasionally I’ll have a class where the room isn’t handicapped accessible, but really I can go and get that fixed pretty quickly,” Booth said. “[ODS] will move the class or switch me to another class. I’ve actually never had a problem.”

Booth spoke lightheartedly of the cards he was dealt, and said he wants people to know that people in wheelchairs aren’t any different from any other students on campus.

“We’re really not that much different from everybody else,” Booth said. “There’s a reason why we are able to go to college and be independent and we don’t really need the extra help. It’s nice, thank you in advance because I know it will happen, but we’re just people doing our thing, it’s not a big deal.”

Booth doesn’t get offended easily because he says most people do not have the experience with a close friend or family member that cannot walk. He is eager to answer questions and talk to people about his wheelchair, because he said most people “just don’t know.”

“I don’t like when people go so far out of their way to help me, like they’ll follow me around and race me to the door to get the door for me and I’m like ‘thank you, but you know I could do it, I promise,’” Booth said. “I wouldn’t go out in public if I couldn’t open a door on my own.”

Booth pointed to his car in a nearby parking space when asked about possible “perks.”

“I like being able to park up front, I’m spoiled,” Booth said. “I get to skip lines of security at the airport – life is easier. I’m telling you, if you want to cut off a toe; just like that, the world opens up.”

Booth joked it would be helpful to have a girlfriend not in a wheelchair.

“I have a theory, girls are a pain in the ass and people in wheelchairs are a pain in the ass. You put them in together and it’s just like ‘oh my gosh, I’m not getting anywhere, I’m not getting out the door,’ so I try to go for girls not in wheelchairs because also it’s not like I can’t do anything, but it’d be nice to have someone to help me get the chair in the car mostly because I’m lazy.”

Booth will graduate in May with a degree in political science and history but hopes to take a break from school for a while and play professional wheelchair basketball in Europe. He said he wants to travel and find a nice girl.

“[Mark is] a one-of-kind, kind of guy,” Thompson said. “He travels by himself, all over the world and he lives life on life’s terms and enjoys life as only he can.”