TOKYO, Japan — It has been five separate times that Lora Webster has been to the Paralympics: Athens, Beijing, London, Rio and now Tokyo. That is an amazing feat. In fact, there has not been a Sitting Volleyball team the United States has sent in the games without her to date. What’s more remarkable is that of the times that she was in the Paralympics, in 40% of her appearances, she has played while pregnant.
“I have learned over the years how to handle my body as far as being able to dive and just protect myself,” said Webster of her second pregnancy occuring during competition times, “It’s just mother’s instinct, I guess to protect that part of my body.”
The undeniable heart and soul of USA’s Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team, Webster, 34, currently a Point Lookout, Long Island, New York resident, who was born in Phoenix and lived in various parts of the country including Nebraska and Oklahoma is stay-at-home mother, wife to husband Paul, and finds herself playing for two with child number four on the way. While she has been in Tokyo, she has been calling home every 12 hours to talk to Maddie (10), Cole (8) and Kyle (6). Her family has been watching her on the internet, supporting Lora even in the Team USA matches that air at 5:30 AM Eastern Standard time.
Webster jokes about being called the “Team Mom” as well.
“What is harder is making my teammates not call me or treat me like their mom. Because it’s like, I am not your mother. I’m not cleaning up after you.” she continued, “They’re my training partners. And so there’s not really a separation between the [parenting and being a teammate]. Yes, there might be parenting in the middle of a practice for me. But those two lives are very much intertwined.”
In all seriousness, some could call her the “Team Mom O.G.” simply because she has been playing since the start of the team, which was before Athens 2004, when she was just a teenager at 15-years-old, three years removed from her surgery to take out a tumor from her left tibia with an osteosarcoma or bone cancer diagnosis.
The “rotationplasty” surgery, which is when a surgeon removes the middle part of your leg, including the tumor. Then the lower leg is reattached at your thigh, but rotated 180 degrees. Thus, the ankle joint functions as the new knee joint.
Lora, an ex-soccer standout was finally getting used to her prosthetic leg, but due to not being able to run as fast gave up soccer in place of a sport that her sister was playing at the time, standing volleyball. At 5’11” Lora was a natural. But she soon caught the eye of Team USA.
“We were at a tournament in California, and somebody came up to my parents, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I noticed your daughter’s prosthetic. USA volleyball is trying to put together a Paralympic team. Please take their card and reach out to the coach. They’ll fill you in.’ So we’re like, we had no idea what the Paralympics were.” Webster recalls.
Lora had some reluctance at first, but she emailed Mike Hewlett, who was then, the first coach of the USA Sitting Volleyball team.
“I emailed the coach, and he’s like, yes, we’re trying to put together a Paralympic team. It’s sitting volleyball. And I was like, No, no, I play standing. And he’s like, no, this Paralympic version is sitting. I was like, number one. I’ve never heard of it. Number two, I don’t fully know what the Paralympics are. And number three, No, thank you. I play standing with my friends. I don’t, you know, I’m not disabled. I don’t. This is not for me. And he was really adamant.”
Next thing she knew, Hewlett convinced her in 2003 to come to Colorado Springs, the training facility for Team USA, where she instantly opened up to the idea of playing for the United States.
“I walked in and I was absolutely blown away. Mike himself was a quadruple amputee. And he was standing there, he had one below the knee, one above the knee prosthetic on both legs, and then prosthetics on both arms. And he was sitting there with a crutch. I mean, it was mind boggling. I had never been surrounded aside from the other cancer kids in the hospital, I had never been around other people that looked like me or had been through stuff like me.” Lora says. “He’s sitting there coaching, there’s people sitting on the floor, there’s prosthetic limbs on the side of the court, and I’m like, ‘Where am I? What did I just walk into?’ And although I was, at that age, you’re 15, [I was] super insecure, and especially about taking off your prosthetic around other people. It’s like, ‘Wait a second, this is a thing.’”
With Hewlett by her side, the confidence came and so did her ability to be a formidable opponent in sitting volleyball. Flash forward 17 years and now Lora has four Paralympic medals (one gold, two silver and one bronze) not to mention World Championship trophies and Parapan medals as well. With her help, Team USA is now ranked #1 in the world. However, sports is not the only way that she has won an award.
In 2018, Lora Webster was honored by the Theresa Foundation in New York with the Theresa Award, which focuses on artistic expression and physical recreation and is given out annually. The organization also works on making programs and arts accessible to the disabled community. In addition, Lora also further tries to make a difference in her community, like in 2019, when she ran for City Council of Hempstead, Long Island, New York.
With all the winning and success on and off the court Webster has had, the feeling of competing never gets old. She always strives for victory.
“I’m super competitive. I don’t want Silver, I want Gold and my teammates are just as competitive and we don’t want to settle for anything else.” says Webster. “We don’t want to walk off, we want to make it to that Gold Medal match. And you can bet your butt that we want to win that gold. It means the most to us. It’s been five years of sacrifice and heartache and stress and blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this. And especially with this additional year.”
She continues, “Sitting Volleyball is really hard on your body. It’s not an easy sport. Just getting to this point has been a heck of a journey. We do not want to walk away from this with anything but the Gold, but we have a ton of work left to do to get it. So winning Gold would never be old hat to us. Winning Gold is everything that we have worked towards for the last five years.”
Teammate, mother, politician, there is no stopping Lora Webster.
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