When Austan Pierce, 17, began searching for a college to attend he wasn’t just looking at the academic programs; he wanted a school with a competitive wheelchair basketball team – and he found that at the University of Texas, Arlington.
Pierce is this year’s outstanding graduate from Ferris High School and while he’s always been an athlete, he hasn’t always been in a wheelchair.
“I used to play able-bodied basketball, but when I was 11 I was diagnosed with bone cancer,” Pierce said, sitting outside in the courtyard at Ferris. “I went through 11 months of chemo and 29 rounds of radiation. I was down to weighing 75 pounds – I had just about 70 surgeries.” The cancer was in and around his left hip and leg. His leg swelled up and complications set in.
“I was ready to get rid of my leg long before my parents were ready for it,” said Pierce. “I couldn’t walk with it. It just didn’t seem like it was going to work out.”
While he was mostly OK parting with his sick leg, it took a while before he hit the basketball court again.
“It was a physical therapist at St. Luke’s that pretty much forced me to try it,” said Pierce, and that was all it took to get him hooked. He played for Team St. Luke’s and he’s the first player from that team to go on and play wheelchair basketball on a collegiate level.
“I just love it, it can get pretty intense, you know, with wheelchairs flipping over and all that.” Pierce said, lighting up in smile.
For now, Pierce is focused on finishing up his time at Ferris.
He said his favorite class varies all the time, depending on the teacher.
“I like teachers that will explain things multiple times, and joke around with you,” Pierce said. “It shouldn’t get out of hand, but it should be fun.”
Pierce likes photography. He hasn’t decided on a major yet, but is thinking of physical therapy or sports marketing.
“Because of the surgeries, I missed quite a bit of school, but the teachers here worked with me all the time,” said Pierce. “It’s been an amazing school for me. I grew up and matured here. I learned what I’m capable of doing.”
As for the cancer, it is now in remission.
“I don’t think anyone has a harder life than anyone else,” Pierce said. “I love life. I wouldn’t change a thing.”