When Lora Webster began to feel constant pain in her knee while playing on two basketball teams nearly 20 years ago, she paid a visit to the doctor. After a biopsy showed a cancerous tumor in her left tibia, the then 11-year-old athlete made one request.
“The first thing I said to him was, ‘Well soccer starts in the spring, so can we do this quickly so I can be back to playing?’”
After surgery to remove the tumor, and with her foot fitting into a prosthetic leg backwards, thereby allowing her ankle to act as a new “knee” joint, Lora continued her athletic career. She ran high school track for a year, was on the diving team, and played volleyball all four years, helping her team win the Arizona state title during her senior season in 2004.
Though still able to thrive in the standing game, Lora had been introduced to sitting volleyball a few years prior at a club tournament. Initially, she was reluctant to adopt the sport. “It took a lot of convincing, because I had never envisioned myself as disabled,” she said. “I still don’t, it’s never a category that I considered myself falling into.”
Lora soon realized the challenge of the sport. “It was something that truly captured me, and for the last almost 15 years I have been traveling the world playing volleyball and competing with USA on my back, and that’s not an honor that a lot of people get to have,” Lora said.
Lora was named USA Volleyball Sitting Player of the Year in 2004 and 2007 and was the inaugural recipient of USA’s All-Time Great Female Sitting Volleyball Player Award. In 2016, she helped Team USA claim gold on the sport’s biggest stage, the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. Still at the top of her game, Lora hopes to help her team win another gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The mother of three children — ages 7, 5 and 2 — Lora has lived in Point Lookout with her husband, Paul Bargellini, since 2008. Because members of Team USA live all around the country and sitting volleyball programs do not exist locally, when not competing in tournaments around the world Lora does most of her training at home with her family. Bargellini said that Lora’s drive, which has fueled her athletic success, has inspired many parents to reach out to Lora asking her what life will be like for their disabled children.
Lora speaks to children at the local elementary school about adaptive sports and the Paralympics. “I hate the term disabled,” said Lora. “People have differences in life, it doesn’t mean that they are any less important or they are any less able to do whatever they want to do. I pride myself on the fact that my kids will grow up and ask questions, and they strive to understand people’s differences rather then being taken aback by them or being scared of it. I try to educate other kids to do the same.”
For her perseverance in the face of all obstacles, her commitment to giving back to the community, and her embodiment of the spirit of the Theresa Awards, we are honored to name Lora Webster the recipient of this year’s Theresa Award. We thank her for all she has done and will continue to do in the years to come.