When Tazmerria Wilson was a little girl, she had big dreams not unlike other kids around her.
“During elementary school, I just had a thing for balls,” said 15-year-old Tazmerria, who goes by “Taz.”
“I saw all the kids playing basketball, and I wanted to play,” she said.
Unlike her classmates, however, Tazmerria has a limitation for the game of basketball.
Wilson is a double amputee and wears prosthetics. She said the coaches and teachers didn’t require her to play as a youngster, and she just did her own thing during class. “I taught myself to dribble,” she said.
But when she got her fourth pair of legs two years ago — Plie 3 Microprocessor controlled knee prosthetics from Freedom Innovations — the same kind many Special Olympians wear, Wilson’s dream resurfaced and she told her mom she wanted to play basketball.
Admittedly protective of the fourth of her seven children, Chirika Wilson wanted to help her daughter achieve her goal.
“I knew Taz would need some kind of therapy, some help before she’d be able to play basketball,” she said. “But my insurance wouldn’t pay for therapy.”
And that’s where some of the people that Wilson calls her daughter’s “angels” came into play.
Don Garrick, a teacher for the orthopedically-Impaired, first met Tazmerria Wilson in preschool.
“She didn’t have her (prosthetic) legs yet,” Garrick said, “but she would adapt and it was just amazing what she could do.”
Years later, after the Wilson family moved away and then returned to Statesboro, Garrick ran into Chirika Wilson and asked about Tazmerria.
“He was so interested in Taz and told me to be sure to let her know he would be at SHS next year, her first year there, in the afternoons, if she needed anything,” she said.
Garrick serves Statesboro High School as an adapted physical education teacher.
When Garrick first saw the older Tazmerria Wilson, he said he was surprised to see the tall teenager, as he remembered her as the preschool youngster.
“She said she was interested in basketball and golf, even though she’d never played either,” Garrick said.
At the end of Wilson’s eighth-grade school year, Garrick borrowed golf clubs from a friend for her and set about teaching her to swing a golf club.
“She was extremely limited initially,” said Garrick. “Taz’s amputations are above the knee, which makes mobility more challenging. She started slow and she stayed with it.
“She doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. She sticks with it. She was determined to go out for the golf team that next year, and she did it. She made the team. She’s quite an inspiration.”
Wilson said her daughter has been an inspiration to her from the beginning. Born without a tibia bone in each leg and severe clubbed feet, doctors labeled her condition “bilateral tibial hemiliah” and said she would need amputations eventually.
One month before her third birthday, Wilson underwent a nine-hour surgery in Atlanta.
“She healed well, and by the tenth week, she was jumping off the couch,” Chirika said. “When I called the doctor, he said, ‘Mama, let her go. Don’t limit her.’”
At home, Tazmerria often removes the prosthetics and accomplishes what she wants – including cooking – without the use of prosthetic legs.
Wilson got her first pair of prosthetic legs when she was 5. Prior to that, she used a wheelchair. With the new legs, she first used a walker for support and then began using crutches.
Riding the bus
The prosthetics and crutches required her to ride the Special Education bus to and from school and to field trips. Wilson said she dreamed of riding the bus with her sisters. Especially an older sister, who was a senior at SHS this year.
Another “angel,” as Chirika calls her, came into Taz Wilson’s’s life to help her achieve that goal. Tina Rigdon, Board of Education physical therapist, worked with Wilson this year in school to help her navigate stairs.
Once she mastered that in March, Wilson eliminated the same pair of crutches she’d used since she was a youngster because insurance wouldn’t pay for more, she could ride the bus with her sisters and was thrilled to do so for two months before her sister graduated.
Also, Rigdon was instrumental in connecting Tazmerria Wilson with Bryan Hugli, physical therapist at Southern Wellness and Rehab, who is working with Wilson to improve her mobility with the new legs and to help her with skills that might allow her to play basketball one day.
“It’s enjoyable to see someone want to work hard, to go the extra mile, to achieve a dream,” Hugli said. “We’re proud to help her, because this could be our own child. Our own mom or dad. We would want someone to help our family member this way.
“We see people here that have physical limitations. But there’s a spiritual, psychological, emotional component there. We want to treat the person as a whole.”
Hugli, who is a golfer, too, added, “There’s a quiet strength in there. Her strength, her attitude can carry her for miles.”
Wilson played in a couple of tournaments last year on the SHS Golf Team and often scores in the low 70s for nine holes. “A 69 one time in Swainsboro,” she said. “But I gotta keep practicing.”
That persistence and determination keeps Wilson pushing through life, in sports, at home, academically.
“I’ve seen a change in her,” Chirika Wilson said about the golf team experience. “To be included in something. She used to stay in her room a lot, but now, she gets outside and practices with her siblings and cousins in the yard.”
Her youngest sibling – the only boy – notices her hard work, including the arm muscles she’s built over the years and is strengthening with each golf swing. Her 5-year-old brother often says, “I want guns like Taz.”
Chirika Wilson is grateful for the “angels” in her daughter’s life.
“God is good in his own timing,” said Chirika. “I was trying to push it, trying to get help for her. And God put just the right people in our lives at the right time. I thank God for Mr. Don, for Ms. Tina, for Mr. Bryan.”
Despite her accomplishments, Tazmerria Wilson remains mindful of her dissimilarities. She said she once asked a classmate, “How do you feel about me being your friend?” The friend responded with a question: “What do you mean?”
Taz replied, “Because I’m different.” And her friend quickly responded, “I see you just like anyone else.”
And that same friend, at a recent visit to Splash in the Boro together, helped Taz situate her prosthetics and then carried her piggy-back across the park.