CLEARFIELD -- When Spencer Heslop couldn't keep up with his peers playing sports, he didn't give up. Determination and practice helped him learn a new way of playing sports and excelling.
Spencer was born with spina bifida, a disabling birth defect with nerve damage that usually causes some paralysis of the legs. Though he can walk with the assistance of forearm crutches and orthopedic braces, he has to use a wheelchair for other tasks such as navigating school hallways.
The 17-year-old senior at Clearfield High School knew that he didn't want to give up on sports, even when he faced challenges because of his condition.
At 7, keeping up with his peers in games became tough as the gap between his and his peer's abilities grew larger.
"I couldn't be competitive out of my wheelchair," Spencer said.
That's when he started playing wheelchair basketball, using a special chair with tilted wheels to allow faster turning and a protective bar in the front to reduce leg injuries.
"It's a natural thing, but it takes a little bit to get used to," he said. "You need to learn to move the chair and have control of the ball at the same time."
The players learn to dribble while coasting in their chairs or to move the chair while the ball is bouncing. The game's rules are much the same as traditional basketball. A player is traveling if they hold the ball for two pushes.
"It's high intensity," said Daron Heslop, Spencer's dad. "It's fast-paced. Most people are surprised when they see it. These players are highly competitive and motivated."
Spencer said his competitive nature helps him excel. He and his teammates on the Junior Wheelin' Jazz team are competing this weekend in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association's Junior Division Western Bid regional.
The team and the Clearfield Aquatic Center are hosts of the tournament for the junior, division III and championship adult divisions.
Since it was formed in 2009, the Junior Wheelin' Jazz team has gone from ranking No. 21 in the association to No. 5 in the nation. The team's 10 players, males and females ages 13 to 21, come from a variety of cities from Springville to Ogden.
Clearfield Recreation Supervisor Curtis Dickson said the city was glad to host the tournament. The city has its own wheelchair team, so this is something Dickson said is very important.
"We look at it as another opportunity to expand what we offer to residents," he said. "We want to have adaptive sports, not just activities for the able-bodied."
The tournament is drawing teams from places such as Phoenix and Seattle. The winners will qualify for the national competition.
Win or lose, Daron Heslop said, the sports shows people what is possible.
"The reality is it's not holding him down," he said of his son's condition. "He can fit into society. It's a difference, but not a disability."
Spencer agrees, adding that he and others like him are finding ways to excel and be part of everyday activities.
"We can do as much as anyone," he said. "We just do it in a different way. You can do anything you want if you set your mind to it."
Spencer hopes to continue playing basketball and is already talking to universities out of state about being part of the collegiate-level teams.
"It's been really exciting," he said. "I've realized how far I can go. I want to push through and always do my best."