“Basketball has completely changed everything.”
“I’ve survived this long and I live a happy life, why shouldn’t he?”
That’s what Rochelle Benton thought to herself when doctors told her unborn son would likely need both legs amputated. They asked if she wanted an abortion. Rochelle was offended.
Rochelle was born with an extreme form of a rare genetic disorder called tibial dysplasia, which leads to missing tibia bones. She had both of her legs amputated above the knee when she was just 18 months old. Growing up in Waxhaw, North Carolina, she never met anyone else with a similar disability, and never got an opportunity to enjoy the athletic pursuits her peers did.
Her son Landon was born with the same disorder. When he was just 15 months old, he underwent the same surgery she did nearly two decades earlier, losing both of his legs.
“I always felt like I was the only person like me in the world,” Rochelle recalled to The Charlotte Observer. “The first amputee I can remember seeing was Landon.”
With his mom to guide him, Landon thrived. Even as a toddler, he was more active than Rochelle ever hoped to be when she was growing up. When Landon was six years old, Mike Godsey recruited him for the Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets wheelchair basketball organization.
Watching Landon compete from the sidelines, Rochelle experienced a pang of envy. Her son had something she never experienced as a kid: the ability to participate in a team sport on a level playing field, among people who wouldn’t go easy on him. So she committed to getting in shape, and one day joining her son on the court.
“Basketball,” Rochelle explained to the Observer, “has completely changed everything.”
A year later—with Landon’s permission, of course—Rochelle joined the Hornets. Over the past three seasons, she’s blossomed into one of her team’s most dependable players, and even helped launch the Rollin’ Hornets’ first all-women’s team. Her coach, Donnie Langford, told the Observer that she could someday even be good enough to play for a U.S. Paralympic team.
Today, Rochelle and Landon are the Rollin’ Hornets’ only parent-child combo. For a few hours a week they hit the court together, their indescribable bond on full display.
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“The old saying is you love all your kids equally, and I do believe that’s true, but there’s a bond that Rochelle and Landon have that parallels the relationship that our team members have with each other,” Godsey, Landon’s coach, told the Observer. “It’s just this unwritten acceptance.”
“You know, most of our kids, most of the time they’re the only kid in the entire school with a physical disability,” Godsey continued. “So every part of each day, they’re different, and it is a very obvious difference—usually the walker, the wheelchair, the crutches, the prosthetic that makes them different. People will stare. Well, that gets old. So when they come into practice, there’s 30 other kids rolling around, and the (able-bodied people) become the oddballs. It’s basically the real world, flipped.”