Will Waller’s clean-cut look complete with omnipresent glasses projects the image of someone who has been very effective in human resources at Fortune 150 companies. He also happens to be in a wheelchair. Unlike many people, Waller can pinpoint the precise moment that led to now.
Waller, who won bronze on the Team USA’s Paralympic basketball team, nearly lost his life on May 23, 1992. It’s safe to safe that his younger self was not on the same—seemingly healthy—track he’s now on.
Waller was an able-bodied teenager barely making his way through high school. Waller lived in a poor Chicago neighborhood when he was caught in the crosshairs of gang violence. But Waller isn’t selling a sob story in what could ultimately be an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.
Waller was a victim of gang violence because he was in a gang. To this day, behind the Clark Kent-esque glasses and his “Superman” physique—he is taller than many even in a wheelchair—Waller carries baggage from his troubled youth.
“I can go hood on you,” Waller told the Connect Sports Diversity Events Summit audience in January. He was only half-kidding.
Waller’s story inspires by showing how he learned to channel his killer instinct into a healthier environment: a basketball court.
Waller didn’t know he was paralyzed when he was first struck during that late-night drive-by shooting. He remembers his legs burning as his friend sped to catch up to the car hosting the shooter. Only when it became clear blood was oozing out of Waller’s side did the car veer toward a hospital. Instead of a chase to punish the would-be killer, the drive was a race to save Waller’s life.