Baltimore, MD – The perception of the wheelchair normally presents negative thoughts towards a person’s situation. Whether through cause of an accident, health or an incident, many individuals would feel remorse and think life for someone who is disabled would not be great due to their restrictions. And to play a sport, well, think again.
Apparently, Larry Toler did not get the memo that his life should be less rewarding because he is in a wheelchair, and he’s playing basketball – well.
Toler was diagnosed with polio at the age of two. But at the age of 17, Toler began to use the wheelchair to play sports and that’s when he was fulfilled as he became a basketball player, which was the icing on the cake.
“I was always a sport fanatic,” said Toler. “Because of polio, it kept me from playing able-body sports. One year, when I was 17-years old, I met a young guy at the Children’s Hospital here in Baltimore, and he told me able the organization, the Baltimore Ravens (now named the Maryland Ravens) Wheelchair Basketball team.
“At 17, I went to play with the Ravens at the league for the handicap, which it was called at the time,” he added. “That’s when I started playing wheelchair basketball and has played ever since. I’m 54-years old and one thing about wheelchair basketball, it gives you the opportunity to play for many years and it offers you longevity.
“If it wasn’t for the sport, I don’t know where I would have been in life, in general,” he continued. “Because of the sport, it gave me an opportunity to get out of the hustle and bustle of the urban, style life and travel to different places because of playing the sport.”
In life, it rains on the just and the unjust, even for the disabled. In addition, great opportunities always manage to surface.
Toler warred with alcohol and drug abuse, followed by homelessness as he went from shelter to shelter. Every war has its outcome and Toler conquered his struggles through his faith.
“I really should not be here,” said Toler. “I had it rough before I came to Christ.”
At the age of 33, Toler came out of a program in Pennsylvania called Teen Challenge. Since finishing that program in 1991, Toler has been on the straight and narrow. Other than being a trailblazer for the disabled, who have dreams of being an athlete despite of their situation, Toler – along with his teammates and the program he is involved with – is setting a standard for all young individuals.
“We have a program which is called the Disability Awareness Program (D.A.P),” said Toler. “It is a non-profit organization ran by Mr. Eddie Diggs. He is the director and our coach. Through this program alone, we go to various schools and other universities for the program. Through that program, I reached thousands and thousands of kids and adults. I shared with them that despite of being disabled, you can accomplish anything you desire in life.
“Nothing can stop you from being what you want to be,” he added. “We talk to them about staying in school, staying away from the negativity and drugs. My approach is to tell kids about being balance in life. Everything can’t be recreational all the time and sitting at home and playing their Wii and Xbox games. You must have balance, do your homework and do your chores. Doing one thing all the time will make you unbalance and unsuccessful.”
Toler has been married to Tonya Toler for 16 years, and according to him, “She’s (Tonya) bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
Toler’s children, Ashley, Nicole, Tonya, Jada, and DJ loves to watch him play.
Toler is still playing ball on a high level. In 2006, Toler and the Ravens won the Division III National Championship in Illinois and in 2013, the title game will be held in Kentucky. That is where the Ravens want to go. The competition is getting tougher for the Baltimore native, but he loves the fact he can still throw down with the best of them and that his sport is growing.
“I’m getting older. I’m blessed that I can still play the game,” said Toler. “I have a good shot and I may be a little slower, but I’m happy. I play against younger men who are 21, 24, 23-years old. I’m competing at the age of 54 and handling my portion of the game. We know the great effect this game has over a lot of people because it’s life changing and wheelchair sports are striving.”
Saturday, September 15, 2012, the Ravens will be playing in a wheelchair basketball fundraiser to help support the team in the quest to go to the regionals, as they prepare for their 35 game season. To support their efforts, the Ravens sale their own brand items of wristbands, lollipops and t-shirts.
From having his life transformed at the age of two, to being an addict to becoming an advocate for his faith, family, friends and the sport he loves, Toler is truly blessed.
What a great story for a man who faced all odds, both physically and emotionally, is able to now help change lives (with his teammates) through the basketball and a chair with wheels that is viewed as a death wish, according to many individuals who do not understand.
“Basketball has been very important in my life,” said Toler. “Even when I get older and can’t play anymore, I want the sport to continue on and be offered to children and younger adults who follow behind us.