Athletes compete at the World Wheelchair Championships in Crestwood

In the summer of 1996, 20-year-old Jeff Yackley, a resident of Downers Grove, was riding a motorcycle with his future wife Julian, behind him in Frankfurt.

He crashed his head into a pickup truck and sustained permanent nerve damage in his left leg. He said he had a foot fall and that the accident separated his hip from his body.

Julian suffered injuries as well, but since she landed on Jeff’s Peak after the collision, her injuries weren’t severe or long-lasting.

For Jeff, who was active in sports at Downers Grove North and College of DuPage, his days in athletics seemed to be over and a disability forced him to wear an ankle orthotic brace.

Yackley, now 56, a resident of Lemont, is a pitcher for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association Hawks. The Hawks hosted and participated in the USA Softball World Championships, which was scheduled from Thursday to Saturday on five fields in the parking lot at Ozinga Field in Crestwood. Teams cannot maneuver on turf or turf so the concrete outside the field serves the athletes well.

Yackley is also a member of Team USA, which is coached by Keith Wallace of Frankfurt and Oak Lawn sue Denen.

At the age of twenty, Yackley said he accepted his fate.

“I wasn’t bitter, and I was young enough that I was able to stay active, even though I couldn’t do the same things at the level I was,” he said. “I had to use my right leg more than I used to.

“No bitterness. The Lord has a strange way of changing plans and details, and you have to go along with things.”

He said his only regret about how things turned out was not knowing that adaptive sports existed. Adaptive sports were not heavily advertised at the time and there was no internet to get the word out.

Yackley said he learned about it on an important trip to Kenya seven years ago. His roommate was Wallace, who is also a coach and CEO of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association.

Wallace took one look at the Yackley brace and decided it was an ideal candidate for a wheelchair sport.

“I wish I had discovered these adaptive sports when I was in my twenties,” Yackley said. “Who knows what I could have done? But I was definitely lucky. I was able to play some basketball and what a humble sport. These guys are so much better than I am now. They are faster and better. I just missed it a bit.”

Yackley is in his 23rd year at Links at Carillon in Plainfield and has been director of golf there since 2008. He is also captain of the Chicago Bears Great Lakes Adaptive Sports wheelchair football team, and was scheduled to take part in the Saturday-Sunday championships at Lake County College in Grayslake.

“I want to hold on for as long as possible and I want to do it until my body is out,” he said. “I feel like I am 30 years old and I love my team. The Lord has blessed me to be able to get out here and play physically.”

The Hawks, who finished third in the World Series in 2021, opened the 17-team double elimination tournament with a 15-0 win over West Michigan Rollin Whitecaps and a 13-2 victory over the Deep South Hurricanes.

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Other members of Wallace’s roster are Jake Williams, Devin Lockett, Will Smith, Paul Smith, Keith Cooper, Jimmy Jackson, Billy Smith, Dan Douglas, JR Boyer, Dino Ramirez, Alex Barra, Drew Sechon, Jay Robinson, Justin Hillman and Juan Ortiz, Jorge Alfaro, Dan Palmer and Nikki Vanessa.

The Nebraska Barons are the defending champions of the World Championships and are the top seed this year. They won their first two matches by a combined score of 31-5.

The team that came out furthest was the All-Star Team from Japan. She opened the fifth-seeded series and beat the Houston Astros, 15-1 and knocked out the fourth-seeded Columbus Pioneers, 16-7.

After a 13-hour flight, the Japan players spent some time in Chicago a few days before the tournament, and planned Thursday night for a Windy City Thunderbolts game.

Coach Yuta Saito said that this group is only for one tournament and the players will return to Japan and transfer to their different teams.

“Of course they want to win this tournament,” Saito said. “The players want to gain experience playing abroad. When they come back home, they will have experiences playing teams like this.”

Jeff Furfa is a freelance reporter for The Daily Southtown.