Work & Education

Disabled basketball coach shows students that ‘anything is possible’

David Solano strives to live without limits and has overcome many obstacles he faced due to his condition, Arthrogryposis. He is a teacher and basketball coach in Phoenix, Arizona where he helps his students navigate their own barriers. Read on to learn more about David’s story and how he started his non-profit organisation, Solano’s No Limit Hoops!

I was born with Arthrogryposis which affects my muscles and joints. The doctors gave my parents a very grim outlook on my future, they said I probably would never hold a pencil, drive a car and wouldn’t be independent. 

However, in reality, there are only three things I can’t do: tie my own shoes, open a milk carton, and button my own pants (but pants now have buckles so now the list is down to two!) My parents always taught me the important lesson of ‘anything is possible’. 

I didn’t know what I was going to do in life, but I wanted to help others. I also didn’t know if college was an option.  At that time of my life, I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college. I received a scholarship during my senior year in high school and attended community college before transferring to Arizona State University.

I realised I wanted to be a teacher.  I wanted to help others the way my parents and many different therapists helped me in life.

David with his wife and two daughters
David with his wife and daughters at the Positive Impact Awards.

Teaching with a disability

I wasn’t nervous about my students being leery of my disability, because I ended up getting a teaching job in the area where I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. The one thing I do every year on the first day of school is I let them ask any question they want.  I tell them it’s okay to stare today.

We have a deep conversation about my hands, I tell them everything I went through and things that I can’t do. I don’t use any accommodations to teach. With the advancement of technology and smartboards its made life as a teacher a lot easier.

I was always a very athletic person despite my disability. I loved playing basketball and became very good at it. I remember my first year as a teacher, a group of boys told me they were all on different basketball teams but they went to the same elementary school. I volunteered to be their basketball coach that summer so they could all be on the same team.

I loved being a volunteer coach, but I was also looking at coaches who were now coaching at schools and making money off it. I thought to myself, “My teams are all good, so why can’t I get paid to coach?”

David coaching a group of students
David coaching a group of students.

Becoming a basketball coach 

It was brutal for me when I first started looking for a paid coaching position.  The phone interviews were great, but when I went to 13 interviews in two years they all turned me down.

During my last interview I said, “If you hire me, I’ll win a state title!” The athletic directors just laughed, but then said, “You’re hired!” I didn’t know how to react. That first year we went undefeated and won the Junior High State Title. In my mind, it was because ‘anything is possible’.

It was a celebratory time in my life, but I also faced a lot of adversity. Coaches didn’t shake my hands after the games. Referees wouldn’t talk to me and called a lot of fouls on my teams.

I had a great first four years with three undefeated seasons and one regular-season loss. I won a state title game and lost a state title game. I believed my winning validated that I belonged there. 

Starting Solano’s No Limit Hoops

I love coaching and teaching, but I also saw a problem in my community with kids failing, dropping out of school, joining gangs or doing drugs.  I saw that not all kids make their high school sports teams and there weren’t any programs out there for the kids who didn’t make the teams.

Yes, there are programs for the kids who like computers, drama, drawing etc., but nothing for the kids who liked athletics. So, I went on a mission to create a free evening basketball program for 13 to 19 year-olds.

David wearing sweatshirts that say Solano's No Limit Hoops and Anything is Possible

It was a two and a half year process. I was told no by every leader in my Phoenix community. I was thinking it was over when I was approached by a newspaper that wanted to cover my mission. A month after the story came out my own non-profit organisation was established.  I received a lot of donations and met a couple who helped me establish the organisation. 

I named my non-profit organisation Solano’s No Limit Hoops because I don’t believe in limits. I’m teaching these young kids to reach for the sky. I’m teaching them to believe ‘anything is possible’ in life if you put the work in. I want these young men to finish school, go to college and to be better fathers and husbands.

The majority of kids that come to our program come from broken homes, misbehave a lot in school and have no faith in the adults around them. I’m trying to change that. I am creating champions in a neighborhood where they are expected to fail.

I would tell anybody else growing up with a disability, it’s just a label. You need to go out and define who you are, don’t let the disability define you. Live with no limits, anything is possible.

To learn more about David and his organisation visit Solano’s No Limit Hoops.

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Shannon Kelly

Shannon Kelly, who is a wheelchair user, is a Disability Horizons' editor, working closely with writers from all walks of life to tell their personal stories. She also has her own blog, where she writes about travel, the environment and her experiences of being disabled.
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