Aunt Edwards had nothing to do with volleyball.
The Claremore-born athlete didn’t know much about parallel sports, but she certainly didn’t consider herself disabled or incapacitated because of her birth defect. She was born without her left hand.
Edwards has proven this throughout his youth career, playing traditional volleyball for his school team at Skeetook as well as for the competitive league team.
Then, in 2008, she was approached, aged 14, and invited to attend an American team sit-down volleyball camp. After a tournament at the Tulsa Convention Center, it was understandable that she was reluctant.
“They told me, ‘Oh my god, a member is missing; come talk to us,'” Edwards said of the match. “And I thought, ‘Not at all. I’m not disabled; I’m not kidding.’ He didn’t want anything to do with it. He saw that my hand was missing and he thought it would be great. But I was like, ‘I’m not disabled. I’m perfectly fine playing standing up, why should I sit down and sit’ Gotta play?'”.
Edwards maintained his stance for some time, but eventually recovered thanks to the persuasive skills of his grandmother who lived in Owaso.
However, the first visit to Edmund’s training center was not a pleasant experience.
Not only was she feeling out of place because her perceived disability was less severe than that of other players, but she was also finding it difficult to sit from standing.
According to the US team’s website, “Paralympic volleyball follows the same rules as its non-disabled counterpart, with some modifications to accommodate various disabilities. In seated volleyball, the net is approximately 3.5 feet high and the court is 10 feet high.” × 6 m with an attack line of 2 m. Players may block the serve, but a “cheek” must be in contact with the ground each time they make contact with the ball.
“I was like, ‘I’m not like any of them. Everyone is losing all their legs, and I have my legs. I don’t need to play for this team,'” Edwards said. Tried it and hated it. I had blisters on my hands, my feet ached, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to do this.
“It’s very difficult to walk and learn tricks in the beginning. When you go from standing to sitting and start moving, you want to get down on your knees, but that’s not good.”
Despite facing the hurdle of learning a different version of the sport she loved, some held her back.
Then, in 2014, a year after graduating from Skeetook High School, he moved to Edmond to continue his training.
That decision led to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the United States team won the gold medal.
China defeated Edwards and the Americans in five sets during the group game, but the American team avenged their gold medal match with a 3–0 victory over Powerhouse. The victory came just months after the American team defeated the Chinese at the 2016 Paravolley Intercontinental Cup World Championships.
Upon entering the Games, China has won all three gold medals since its inclusion in the Games in 2004.
“My whole body was in shock,” Edwards said. “I was like, ‘We just won.’ I just remember saying, ‘Oh my God. Oh my lord.’ That’s all I could say. I ran to the court and hugged my libero and said, ‘Did we just win?’ Everyone was crying and emotions were overflowing.
“The medals are too heavy. I’d say about 3 or 4 pounds. They’re too heavy. My neck collapsed when I put it on. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Five years later, Edwards hopes to experience the same “drop-naked” feeling again.
The 2021 Paralympic Games are scheduled to run from August 24 to September 24. on August 5 in Tokyo, Japan, and Team USA’s volleyball team is set to begin their journey to the “Land of the Rising Sun” on August 15.
The schedule, originally scheduled for 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. This, of course, made training difficult for Edwards and his teammates.
“We were in Colorado in early March, and when we got back, it was all COVID,” Edwards said. “We were trying to figure out what to do in training, and then they talked about canceling everything. And we said, ‘No, no, no. The games should be this year.’
Before the pandemic, the US team ended 2019 with a gold medal at the Perpetual American Games and the Paravolley World Super 6.
With the training facility closed, Edwards returned to Skeetook and managed his time with home workouts. Although he couldn’t do much, and other than occasionally using the wall as a rebound, his volleyball touches were limited for about five months.
Training resumed in the fall, and now Edwards is looking to add a second Paralympic gold medal to his pile of achievements.
Team USA is the favorite for the tournament, but regardless of the result, Edwards will continue to enjoy what may be the best decision of his life.
What he once resisted became his calling.
“I was totally against it, but now I love it,” he said.