Paralympic athletic trainer must decide on 2021 Games attendance

Savannah’s Vacala has been with U.S. Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team for nearly 30 years

Paralympic athletic trainer must decide on 2021 Games attendance
Vacala has been with the team more than 30 years, helping them to two gold medals and several world championships. (Source: Mary Vacala)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a pretty average Wednesday for Savannah’s Mary Vacala, even in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Savannah's Mary Vacala planned to make the 2020 Summer Paralympics her final Games with the U.S. Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team.
Savannah's Mary Vacala planned to make the 2020 Summer Paralympics her final Games with the U.S. Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team. (Source: WTOC)

She’s checking up on some emails and getting ready to start tending to patients at Urgent Care of Sandfly. Mary’s happy to report even with the coronavirus outbreak, she and her colleagues aren’t any busier than normal.

"People are staying home, doing what they’re supposed to,” Mary says.

But the coronavirus pandemic is causing problems for Mary’s other gig: athletic trainer for the U.S. Men’s Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Team.

“They’re my boys. It’s always 18 boys and Mary," Vacala says. “I’ve been all over the world with them. We’ve won some championships.”

It’s a job she’s had for more than 30 years, but one she won’t be able to do this summer like she originally planned.

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee announced the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo are being postponed to 2021. Vacala feels it’s the right call.

“Absolutely,” she says. “We don’t know what this thing is going to look like at that point.”

But it is creating a quandary for Mary.

Vacala planned to make the 2020 Games her final with the team. Now she must decide if she wants to hold out through 2021.
Vacala planned to make the 2020 Games her final with the team. Now she must decide if she wants to hold out through 2021. (Source: Mary Vacala)

The 2020 Games were set to be her swan song with the team. Now she has to decide if she’ll hold out for 2021.

“We all had a goal: a gold medal. So to walk away from that a little bit premature would be a difficult decision" she admits. "But at the same time, I had a goal to be done in 2020.”

Mary’s time with the team has resulted in two Paralympic gold medals and several world championships. It’s a career she’s satisfied with, even if doesn’t include one final trip to the Paralympics.

“I’ve completed every dream I’ve ever had. I’ve gone past that," Vacala says. "I really feel bad for the athletes, who this is their first time, that they’ve worked so hard for.”

Vacala says if she’s in Tokyo next summer or not, she’ll be rooting for “her boys.” Hopefully, she adds, all the way to another gold medal.

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