Eric Baker first visited the University of Arizona to attend a quad rugby clinic and knew instinctively he wanted to be here. The longtime athlete had found what he’d been searching for since his injury, when he slipped at a high-school water polo tournament and hit his head on the bottom of the pool.
“The school is accommodating and accessible, and that’s rare,” he said. Less than a year later, Baker enrolled and joined the UA’s quad rugby team — a part of the University’sAdaptive Athletics program. Today, he is also the first recipient of the Dianne Kalal Memorial Scholarship, which will be given annually to a quadriplegic student in memory of Kalal, a former UA student.
Arizona’s quad program provided Baker the competitive team and supportive environment he craved.
“I get the same feeling here as I used to get on the swim team,” he said. “There’s an organized schedule and goals and a sense of accountability, and athletes really thrive on that.”
Baker, who grew up in Merced, Calif., also found that the UA’s support extended beyond sports. For example, if he reported that he couldn’t hear a professor’s lecture, a microphone appeared the next day. “It’s great to not always have to be fighting the system,” he added.
In his future, Baker imagines a career as an athletic trainer or coach. His quad rugby coach, Bryan Barten, has something to do with that. “It’s his supportive coaching mentality that I really, really like,” Baker said.
“I know that my coaches over the years have been father figures somehow — I think that all coaches are. It’s kind of amazing the impact you can have on someone’s life not really by doing anything extreme — just being there.”
The sophomore is already inspiring others. He loves speaking before audiences of schoolchildren. “I want to tell them you can do anything,” he said. “Stuff happens in life that sucks, but you can get over it as long as you’re mentally strong.”
Scholarships comprise 3 percent of all private giving to the University of Arizona. You can support UA’s Adaptive Athletics program today.