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   from the issue of February 23, 2006

Pérez finds outlet in extra-curriculars


Jockeying for position in the paint, Lance Pérez reaches for and snares a rebound.

TOUGH SHOT - Lance Pérez, associate professor of electrical engineering, (left) watches a lay-up drop through the basket as a defender...
 TOUGH SHOT - Lance Pérez, associate professor of electrical engineering, (left) watches a lay-up drop through the basket as a defender from the Iowa Chariots defends in the Madonna Inviational on Feb. 10. Pérez has played wheelchair basketball for years, including the last 10 with the Madonna Magic. Pérez enjoys his extra-curricular activities, which include basketball, softball and hand cycling. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

Passing to a teammate, Pérez, an associate professor of electrical engineering, spins out of trouble and motors down the floor. Grabbing the left and pushing to the right, Pérez maneuvers around an opposing player as he watches his Madonna Magic teammates convert lightning-quick passes into an uncontested basket.

The next trip down court, Pérez is the recipient of a fast break, collecting a final pass for a drive to the hoop. The move is cut short as an opponent crashes in, but the one-handed shot falls true.

Between possessions, players talk - some more than others, not unlike any other basketball court in use for a Saturday afternoon tournament.

All the traditional elements of basketball meld together on the hardwood. However, this isn't a usual game. When the clock rolls into the final buzzer, very few of these players walk away. Instead, they exchange final hand slaps and encouraging words wheel to wheel, then roll off court to prepare for the next game.

Welcome to wheelchair basketball - where despite individual conditions, no quarter is given and none is asked for.

"It is very physical and intense out there," Pérez said. "We play hard and we have high expectations of each other."

Pérez has used a wheelchair since suffering a spinal cord injury between his freshman and sophomore years in college. After completing a rehabilitation program, he returned to school at the University of Virginia and focused on education. Alongside work toward a bachelor's, Pérez was introduced to wheelchair basketball.

"Someone on campus invited me to play in a wheelchair basketball game," Pérez said. "I was very interested because I had always had a desire for competitive athletics. And, it also held a social component."

While providing a release for his competitive nature, Pérez said the game helped him feel normal, as if he was just one among the many.

"There is a real camaraderie among wheelchair athletes," Pérez said. "And, when we are together, we don't stand out."

He stayed with the game through the years, playing on teams at Virginia, then on another while earning a master's and doctorate at Notre Dame. When he journeyed to UNL in 1996, Pérez hooked up with the Madonna Magic, a National Wheelchair Basketball Association squad sponsored by Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

The Magic is one of the area's best squads. Facing teams from across the region (which includes Kansas City, Minneapolis, Iowa, St. Louis and Omaha) the Magic earned the NWBA's Midwest Conference championship this season. And, at the Madonna Invitational, held at the Calvert Recreation Center in Lincoln on Feb. 10-11, the Magic finished in first place.

Pérez said the Magic have finished as high as 13th nationally.

Individually, Pérez loves playing defense and collecting rebounds. He was selected a second-team all-conference player in the 2004-2005 season.

"We have a good core of dedicated players," Pérez said. "We have played together for the last 10 years and are friends as well as teammates."

Aside from the weekend trips to tournaments (the season runs from October to March), Pérez relishes practice sessions held every Tuesday night.

"We all go out together after practice," Pérez said. "That is a time that is very important to me."

Along with basketball, Pérez also balances out his academic side through playing softball in the summer and hand cycling a specialized three-wheel bike.

Pérez plays third base for the Nebraska Barons softball squad. The team won the national championship in 2003 and 2004, and finished as runners-up in 2005.

Hand cycling rates nearly as important as basketball in Pérez's life as it allows him to get outdoors.

Enjoyment comes from the solitude of morning rides and from pedaling alongside family members, particularly his wife, daughter and brother.

Pérez and his wife pedaled across parts of Europe as he finished his post-doctorate work in Switzerland. Pérez and his brother take annual trips via bike. Some of their rides include the Allegheny Trail, the C & O Canal and the Katy Trail.

"For me, being active is a quality of life issue," Pérez said. "I've always been a competitive person and athletics provides an outlet for me. And physical sports are a great balance to the intellectual side of my profession."

One of U - This is an ongoing series featuring UNL employees. Stories are open to anything, from on-campus jobs to at-home hobbies. If you know an employee who should be featured here, contact the Scarlet at 472-8515 or



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