Bailey Moody has a job to do: Bring home a Paralympic gold medal.
“The goal in Tokyo is to win gold and to be the best team in the world, to represent Team USA. That’s the focus. That’s the job. That’s what I’m going to go do,” said Moody, a member of the women’s wheelchair basketball team who will compete in the delayed 2020 Paralympic Games later this month.
Moody’s road to the games started nine years ago, when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her right knee. After receiving chemotherapy treatments at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare, she was given three choices — insertion of a metal rod, plain amputation or rotationplasty amputation — she chose the latter.
“I chose to amputate my leg,” Moody said. She was 10.
Rotationplasty is a form of limb sparing surgery for the femur, knee or tibia. The procedure involves removing the cancerous part of the bone, usually including the knee. The remaining ankle is then rotated 180 degrees and reconnected to the rest of the leg to create a new knee joint. This results in more function and durability when combined with a below-the-knee prosthesis.
“I ended up choosing the rotationplasty amputation because it would give me the best opportunity to go back to playing basketball again,” she said. “It was kind of looks or function, and I chose function.” Some doctors, she said, told her she shouldn’t get rotationplasty because it would look too funny for a girl. “And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Moody’s decision enabled her to continue playing basketball in middle school, and basketball and volleyball in high school, at Providence Christian in Lilburn. She also played wheelchair basketball.
“I decided that I just loved wheelchair basketball, and I loved the competition,” Moody said. “I loved the game, but I also loved the idea of where it could take me and the levels I could play at. So I eventually just stopped playing able-bodied basketball and focused completely on wheelchair basketball.”
Playing adaptive sports, Moody realized, gave her the opportunity not only to travel the world but also to play in the Paralympics.
“And I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” the 19-year-old said. “That’s what I wanted to do. It’s crazy, because if I had two legs I would have never been able to play at the level I play at now. If I hadn’t chosen to amputate, hadn’t started playing wheelchair basketball, hadn’t been through what I had gone through, I would not be where I am today and I wouldn’t have the platform I do today.”
Moody uses her platform to inspire and support others.
“There are obviously going to be girls who look up to you and are like, ‘Oh, I want to do that someday. I want to play for Team USA,’” she said. “And so it’s important to me to remember that side of it, too, and how much bigger than basketball it really is. You’re representing something much bigger than just being an athlete, you know?”
In 2019, she spoke to groups at the Atlanta Hawks’ “Her Time to Play” clinic and the Triumph of the Human Spirit Awards, among other events.
“It’s a heavy job, but I would love to just continue to spend time with younger athletes and speak to them and tell my story,” she said, adding that it’s “incredibly important” to encourage them and keep them in the sport.
The job might be bigger than just basketball, but right now that’s Moody’s focus.
In a perfect world she already would be a Paralympic veteran after being chosen for Team USA last year for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. As we know, last year’s world was far from perfect and the games were postponed a year.
“We had been selected for the team right before everything shut down,” Moody said. “So, you’re expecting to go, and then things get crazy.”
Just because she had to wait a year didn’t mean she could take a break, however. All the gyms closed, so Moody trained with weights in her basement and did a lot of pushing outside, finding creative ways to work out without having a gym for a year.
The year is finally up, and Moody is at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado preparing to do her job in Tokyo.
The U.S. women’s first wheelchair basketball game will be Tuesday, Aug. 24. The United States will take on the Netherlands during the Group B preliminary round 8 p.m. to midnight. You can check out the full schedule on the Olympics website. All times are local for Tokyo, which is 13 hours ahead of us, so keep that in mind.
“If you haven’t ever watched it, you totally should,” Moody said. “There’s chairs banging, and people are flipping over. It’s super, super rough and fast and just not really what people expect.”