SF Athlete Getting His Big Break
Tony Leboutillier will be competing in the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA National Championship
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – There are plenty of sports to play in the Sioux Empire, including football, basketball and hockey. But one sport you don’t hear about as much is lacrosse. That’s about to change, as one Sioux Falls athlete is bringing his stick skills to a national stage.
Life has come differently for Tony Leboutillier.
“I would roll down big ‘ole hills with my friends because they were running down it,” says Leboutillier.
At birth, Leboutillier came down with a virus that affected the muscles on top of his spine.
“It slowed the muscle growth in my legs,” explains Leboutillier. “That’s pretty much the only thing that was affected.”
Leboutillier can walk very short distances.
“Long distances, my wheelchair is my legs pretty much,” says Leboutillier.
But his wheels haven’t stopped him from doing everyday things, even when it comes to playing sports.
“I come from a family that sports is everything we knew,” says Leboutillier. “I played all different stuff when I was growing up, mainly just because I was the only disabled kid, so I played to fit in.”
When a team from San Diego visited Sioux Falls two years ago to introduce the sport of wheel chair lacrosse, Tony picked up the gloves, stick and helmet and never looked back.
“I got hooked on it, and I started playing it more and practicing it more,” says Leboutillier.
Since then, the group has been playing pick-up games at Memorial Middle School.
“When they get out here they’re on an even playing field, and they treat it the same way,” says the owner of Sioux Falls Lacrosse, Coach Corey Mitchell. “They compete just as hard as anyone, it’s awesome.”
But no one was expecting what would happen next: “It was a Facebook message, I woke up to it really,” explains Leboutillier.
That same California team that taught Tony how to play, asked him to join their team at the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA National Championship in New York.
“It’s an opportunity that not everyone gets to take advantage of,” says Coach Mitchell.
But there’s one snag.
“I would love to go out there, but obviously it takes money,” says Leboutillier.
With the flight, hotel and meals, the cost of the trip wasn’t adding up in Tony’s paychecks. So his brother stepped up, creating a GoFundMe account saying “I know how much satisfaction my brother gets from playing adaptive sports and how much his demeanor changes when he plays.” In one week, $2,200 was raised; giving the athlete the opportunity to play against the nation’s best.
“I never thought it would hit the amount that it did, so that kind of blew me away,” says Leboutillier. “It’s going to be interesting; it’s going to be fun and I’m looking forward to it!”
“We’re just really happy for Tony,” says Coach Mitchell. “We kind of wish we could go along with him, but we’ll just watch from YouTube or something.”
The tournament begins August 25th. The team Leboutillier is playing with, the Sand Diego Riptide, are the reigning champions.