Several years ago, I interviewed a young man named Sean Burns. Then 9 years old, Sean was a whirling dervish of wheeling energy, avid about a half-dozen sports. He also loved to watch sports, rooting for every team in his Carolina region. When I asked Sean to name his favorite athlete, knowing his favorite spectator sport is baseball, I expected to hear Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones or maybe Andruw Jones.
Sean thought for a moment, then answered: “Dave Kiley.”
How terrific that a young wheelchair athlete can bestow hero status on an accomplished athlete who moves through the world like he does, and not only because of his talent. And how perfect that the man he looks up to — one of the best-known wheelchair athletes in the world, and arguably the greatest wheelchair basketball player of all time — happens to be his coach.
Dave Kiley is the owner of 13 Paralympic medals (nine of them gold) in basketball, skiing and racing. In addition to his unprecedented six MVP awards from National Wheelchair Basketball Tournaments, Kiley was voted the Most Valuable Player of the First 50 Years of the sport by the International Wheelchair Basketball Association. Kiley was also the first player to serve as commissioner, then president, of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. While in office, he forged an alliance with the National Basketball Association, which led to the NBA/NWBA Wheelchair Classic — an all-star exhibition played at the fan festival before the pro league’s All Star Game. In the 2006 Classic, the MVP Award for the east division went to 52-year-old Dave Kiley.
Kiley has been the director of two adaptive sports programs — at Casa Colina in Pomona, Calif., and the Charlotte Institute of Rehab in Charlotte, N.C. — for a total of 26 years. Now, having shifted gears slightly, he’s the director of growth for Turning POINT, a Texas-based outdoor adventure organization.
Turning POINT, the creation of paraplegic sportsman Michael “Shorty” Powers, promotes fishing, boating, shooting, climbing and other outdoor activities, mostly for men with spinal cord injuries. Kiley’s mission is to expand and diversify. He’s already created five new chapters in five cities, with a goal of repeating that success each year for the next