James Bohnett and Erik Todd
James Bohnett, left, and Erik Todd, right, pose for a picture inside their dorm room at The University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo. on Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014. The two met and are both athletes on the Mizzou wheelchair basketball team.
Spina Bifida Diagram
This diagram demonstrates a severe case of spina bifida similar to Erik Todd's. The birth defect occurs when the bones of the spine do not form properly around part of the baby's spinal cord often forming a large bulge in the skin. The nerves are often damaged and can make daily tasks, such as walking, difficult.
Ever since he was a young boy, Erik Todd had his heart set on going to a large university. However, it was his freshman year of high school when reality began to sink in. Todd realized his dreams of college might not be in his future.
Todd, along with many others who have spina bifida, received a shunt. The shunt regulates the amount of spinal fluid outside of the brain so that there isn’t too much or too little fluid.
Erik Todd shows part of his shunt through his skin near his collar bone on Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014 in Columbia, Mo. The shunt drains excess fluid on the brain caused by spina bifida.
When a shunt malfunctions, it can inhibit how one thinks. For Todd, it did just that. Todd struggled academically. He became very lethargic and couldn’t focus on his studies. Thus, attaining the grades he would need to get into college seemed almost impossible.
Todd’s parents simply thought he was going through a phase, which caused his grades to drop. After discovering the problem, Todd got his old shunt removed and replaced with a new one the summer following his freshman year.
With the help from both his parents and the high school staff, Todd was able to improve his grades slightly. However, his first application to the University of Missouri was not accepted.
Todd changed his plans to attend a community college, but still had his heart set on going to Mizzou. So, with nothing to lose, he applied one more time. This time he was accepted.
Erik Todd, Tom Todd, Brandon Todd
Erik Todd, left, poses with dad, Tom Todd, and brother, Brandon Todd, after graduating Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill. on May 28, 2012. Erik Todd's family is one of his biggest support systems. (Isabel Reyes-Todd)
Erik Todd, Tom Todd, Coach Kevin Hosea
Erik Todd, left, is preparing to commit to play Wheelchair Basketball for The University of Missouri on Feb. 15, 2012 at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill. This was a big accomplishment for Erik Todd, his father Tom Todd, and coach Kevin Hosea. (Wheaton Athletics)
“I feel as receiving my acceptance letter meant as much to me as it did to my dad if not more. He was a teacher at my high school, so he witnessed every struggle I went through firsthand.”- Erik Todd
Todd has been playing wheelchair basketball since he was in third grade on a park district team known as "WindyCity" located in Carol Stream, Ill. Basketball was one of the few sports Todd felt he could be competitive in.
Todd has learned to be competitive after strengthening his basketball skills over the course of the 8 years he's been playing the sport. He can be seen above scoring some points in the Milwaukee Tournament on Nov. 13, 2011.
As Todd got older, Mizzou's Wheelchair Basketball team was something he thought would help him feel at home, away from home, while being away at college. More importantly, it was something Mizzou had that many other colleges did not.
Wheelchair basketball is a unique feature to campus. Get a glimpse of the team's talent on the court. Hitting three-pointers, rebounding, gaurding and getting back up after a tumble, the team is undefined by their disability. These students may play in wheelchairs, but they are true athletes all the same.
The Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball team poses for a team photo at the Mizzou Rec in Columbia, Mo. on Sept. 21, 2012. The team has become more like a family for Erik Todd. (Mizzou Rec Services & Facilities)
“I felt like this team was the best fit for me out of all of the colleges.”-Erik Todd
The Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball team prepares to take on the Kansas Wheelhawks in Topeka, Ks. on Jan. 18, 2013. Their coach, Ron Lykins, was selected as coach of the United States men's wheelchair basketball team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. (Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball Photo/Shane Epping)
Erik With His Roommates
Erik Todd poses with his roommates, and also teammates, Josh Ruoff, James Bohnett, and Taylor Moore in their dorm room on Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014 in Columbia, Mo. Todd says they are more than just teammates, they are lifelong friends.
Not only was it a good fit; the team continues to give him hope. Growing up with his disability, Todd was often excluded. He often felt less of a person compared to his peers and always longed for a sense of belonging. As a part of Mizzou’s Wheelchair Basketball team, Todd now is able to raise awareness about his disability, along with many other disabilities. This is done through an annual Wheelchair Relay event, which is hosted by Todd and his team. The event attempts to bridge the gap between students in wheelchairs and those who are not. A gap that people like Todd experienced growing up. A gap that one might say is often overlooked.
In the video above, students from all across campus came together to raise awareness about various disabilities and promote a diverse community Saturday, April 5, 2014. Wheelchair Relay hosts fun skill-based and interactive activities for participants. The event is held annually and sponsored by Mizzou Recreation Center, Mizzou Unity Coalition, The Office of Disability, and Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball.
With spina bifida, Todd is able to walk. However, although he can use his legs, his muscles simply don’t work to their full degree. He also runs out of breath easily when walking around. Therefore, his parents decided to get him a wheelchair at the start of college to help him get around Mizzou’s campus.
Challenges wheelchair bound students face around campus are a few of the inclines that aesthetically add to the landscape, but make transportation from class to class a literal uphill battle.
Erik Todd removes his wheelchair from his car on the the University of Missouri’s campus Saturday, Apr. 12, 2014. The wheelchair made it easier for him to get around such a large campus. However, Todd said taking it in and out of his vehicle has proved to be a bit of a challenge.
Todd said the whole system for the hand controls probably costs around a couple thousand dollars, but it was luckily covered by insurance. Todd also shared one of the slang terms used for the steering knob.
Erik also struggles keeping his hands clean.
Erik Todd holds out his hands to demonstrate how dirty his hands get on a daily basis at the Mizzou Rec in Columbia, Mo. on Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014. Having dirty hands is another struggle associated with using a wheelchair as a means of transportation.
Wheelchairs, prosthetics, and other items used to assist with mobility around campus can have more than one means of usage. When Todd first arrived to campus he faced difficulties moving in just as any student does.
Erik Todd takes a photo of a scratch on his arm after attempting to fix a dorm bed on June 23, 2011 in Columbia, Mo. He mentioned in a comment on Facebook that the task took three wheelchair athletes to complete it. (Erik Todd)
While Todd's wheelchair aids in the ease of his mobility and works to combat the effects of spina bifida, Todd still is subject to medical complications that may further hinder his ability to walk. This was the case in January of 2004 when Todd's feet began to shift. Spina bifida was changing the position of his ankles and was turning the soles of his feet inward. Todd's ankles required intensive corrective surgery that involved the implantation of screws in the calcaneus bone. Similar to how braces straighten teeth, these nails stabalized the ankle and over the course of 12 months repositioned Todd's feet to their proper alignment.
An example of a patient with ankle valgus, left, and an X-ray image of Erik Todd's feet, right. Todd was diagnosed with ankle valgus in 2004 when his ankles began to turn inward as a result of spina bifida. (International Journal of Clinical Medicine)
Todd's 2004 diagnosis of ankle valgus is very common amongst those with spina bifida. Spina bifida will continue to challenge Todd and his physical health throughout the course of his life. While Todd's surgery corrected this issue, it is possible for that specific health complication, and for other deformaties or injuries, to reoccur in the future.
With the physical demands of playing an aggressive sport in a wheelchair, just as playing any sport comes with risk, Todd was injured towards the end of the 2013 - 2014 season. He suffered a shoulder injury that needs operation and under the advisement of his doctors was instructed not to play in the off season.
Todd still shows up to practices and scrimmages to show unyielding support for his team and the brotherhood they share.
Todd watches some of his teammates play in a scrimmage at the Mizzou Recreation Center on Apr. 25, 2014 in Columbia, Mo. Although Todd cannot actively participate, he still arrives to the early 6 a.m. off season practices to support the team.
Although having a disability is never a choice, Todd has been able to find a positive in every negative experience. More importantly, Todd feels he has become a better person. Further, he said he his grateful for the opportunities he has been given. Opportunities that he would not have been given without his disability, such as playing wheelchair basketball at the college level.
Erik Todd bounces a ball in the Mizzou Rec located in Columbia, Mo. on Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014. Basketball is something Erik Todd always looks forward to and is somewhere he feels he is at his best.