ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Like many players, Northstar senior Justin Baxter was confident, but a little nervous before his first-ever varsity basketball game.
“I thought I’d be more scared than I was, but when I got out there, I felt good. It was like, ‘okay, I can do this’,” says Baxter.
But unlike most, just stepping on the court was an accomplishment. At just 4 years old, he lost his right leg in a tragic lawn mower accident. Since that day, it’s been a battle to get where he is now.
“You get up and you get through it. You can’t let it hold you down. Get ready for the world in front of you,” says Baxter.
He first started playing basketball four years ago and joined the varsity team last season. His head coach, JJ Garwood, says Baxter never makes excuses.
“Even on days where his leg isn’t feeling that well, if the other guys are running, he’ll be on the sideline doing push-ups just because he doesn’t want to use anything as an excuse,” says Garwood.
The toughest part of living with a prosthetic for Baxter is wondering about what his athletic potential could have been, but he’s grateful for how far technology has come to allow him to play basketball today.
“The gift I was given to be able to be at this position and be able to, somewhat, compete at this level, it’s crazy,” says Baxter. “It’s not imaginable. It’s hard to do.”
Baxter plays mostly at the end of blowout wins for the 19-1 Knights. His teammates cite his decision-making, shooting, and, surprisingly, his rebounding as his greatest strengths. But his biggest contribution to the team is the inspiration he provides to his teammates each and every day.
“He’s a fighter,” says junior Sean Smith. “That’s one word you can use for Justin, he’s a fighter. He keeps a positive attitude at all times. You never see Justin down, ever.”
“Him having one leg and being able to play, still fight, go hard, harder than some people, that’s good,” says senior Khalil Iverson. “A lot of people can’t do that. It’s a lot of heart, I have respect to him.
Baxter says he enjoys sharing his story with other amputees and anybody else — to show them what you can achieve if you work hard enough.
“I met a lot of other people who are amputees. They like hearing other people’s stories because then they’ve seen how far they can get,” says Baxter.