Limerick's Joe shoots for success despite disability

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

Limerick's Joe shoots for success despite disability

Joe Hargrow celebrates his bronze medal from the European Wheelchair Basketball championships with his wife Joani, and their two children, Blake and baby Jade - Picture: Adrian Butler

AT EIGHTEEN, Bulgaden man Joseph Hargrow was left fighting for his life after a road traffic incident, just minutes from his home in November 2003.

The New York native had his eyes set on becoming the next hurling star — once a prominent Limerick minor hurler and proud member of Staker Wallace GAA.

That fateful crash “turned everything upside down” and a young Joe, now wheelchair-bound, was forced to start life anew.

But since, Joe has championed an exemplary sporting, academic, and family life. Over the past 14 years, the 32-year-old has become one of Ireland’s top wheelchair basketballers; completed a sports scholarship in the United States; and has started a family with his American sweetheart Joani.

And to top it all off, the elated father-of-two this week shows off his hard-earned European wheelchair basketball bronze medal, after beating rivals Portugal on a tight scoreline of 52 to 51, in Brno, Czech Republic.

Embracing the accolade with his family in the People’s Park, Joe recalls his 14 years of perseverance which has led to joy and great fortune in the Hargrow household.

“Everything that I was doing, I couldn’t do it again,” Joe, who celebrated his birthday this Thursday, tells the Leader. “I was doing an apprenticeship to be an electrician, playing hurling with the Limerick minors. And after it happened, I said to myself: ‘Okay, what are you going to do now?’ And you just have to find yourself again, find what you like, find who you are as a person. And, luckily, I just kept going and I didn’t let anything stop me. I tried new things and I met new people.”

Following his treatment in 2004, Joe discovered wheelchair basketball, but had only dribbled about the courts recreationally.

But after realising its global popularity — it being the most influential Paralympic sport in the world — Hargrow heated up his gameplay and commenced a dream career in wheelchair basketball.

And it was not long until he was scouted by the best in the US, which led to his prized sports scholarship at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater in 2007, where he studied health and human performance for five years. 

He says that he was not the studious type in school, and never dreamed of attending college, but was able to do so thanks the scholarship.

“And that was huge for me. I was by myself, and I had to go out there and do it myself.”

Within weeks of enrolment, he met the love of his life, Joani Traylor. In July 2012, the couple spoke to this newspaper about their special wedding ceremony at Bulgaden Church. And since that interview, the two have started a family, with three-year-old Blake, and their latest arrival, baby Jade, who is just four months young.

Before starting a family, Joe was a professional wheelchair basketballer for one season in Italy. Now, he says, he is very much enjoying the family life.

“A family is something that I have always wanted. When it happens, it is surreal. I am loving it all, and enjoying myself thoroughly.”

He also enjoys being the backbone of the Irish amateur wheelchair basketball team, playing as the point guard — or the ball-handler.

Devoted to the sport, Joe intensely trains at least eight hours a week, with tri-weekly sessions with the Irish squad in the capital. This is married with a strict diet, though he admits he cheats with “fried chicken or fast food once every two weeks”. 

And after losing to Portugal for the bronze medal twice previously, he says that it “was nice to get back at them this time”.

The sports enthusiast is also a month away from officially launching his new business Pushing For Success, which aims to strengthen awareness among primary- and secondary-schoolers of inclusion sports for people with disabilities.

“I want to bring an emphasis to inclusion sports because I feel everybody deserves to play sports. And we all know the benefits of sports — socially, mentally, physically.

“There are plenty of facilities in Ireland for inclusion sports, it’s just the knowledge — people don’t know about it.

“I came to Ireland when I was six, and I didn’t know anything about wheelchair sports until my own accident. I went 12 years living in Ireland without any disability awareness. And it’s all about getting people to know about it.”

He says that Limerick and Ireland has made great strides in promoting disability awareness, such as road and building access and toilet facilities.

And for those who have to adapt to similar dramatic changes in their lives, Joe’s inspiring mantra is: “Don’t be afraid to go out there, just go out and do it.”

“For me, the transition was easy. And that was just down to my personality. But a lot of people just don’t know what’s out there.

“They don’t know that there are sports, that they can go places, that they can do everything, have a family, have friends, and stuff like that. You have to go out there, don’t give up anything, don’t change anything. Your friends are still going to be your friends, and your family are still going to be your family.”