Up until April, Faizool Ali, a physical therapy assistant with Elant at Wappingers Falls, was simply a 38-year old man living a full life with a disability. It was in April that the wheelchair basketball team Ali plays with, the New York Rollin’ Knicks, soundly defeated the defending champion, the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks, 76-53, to win this year’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association title at the Kentucky Exposition Centre in Louisville.
Ali is not only a national champion on the court, but also an inspiration to residents coping with the challenges and struggles related to the demands of physical therapy and their personal recovery from an illness or injury. He has a disability of his own to share with them that has resulted in a crowning achievement in his life that he could never have imagined.
Fourteen years ago, Ali was sitting on his couch when he started feeling numbness and tingling in his leg. He had played basketball that day, and the then 24-year-old thought it was just a little numbness after a long day of work and play.
“It was a blood clot,” said Ali. “It came from out of nowhere. I still felt it the next morning. When I tried to walk from my car into work, I knew then that it was a problem.”
What came afterward were a series of treatments and surgeries to remove the clot.
“It was the scariest time of my life,” he said. “I knew the leg was dying and it had to be removed.” Before further complications set in, he had his right leg amputated and basketball, his favorite sport, became the least of his priorities.
Today, he wears a prosthetic, which allows him to walk and work at Elant without much difficulty. It’s the work with his words, however, that makes him so valuable at Elant at Wappingers Falls.
When a resident is feeling down with the challenges of his or her own condition, Ali listens with an empathetic ear. He understands and can speak from his own struggles that resulted in him losing his independence, his home and his job.
“Being able to empathize with residents and inspire them to work harder makes him very effective in helping those who are in pain or don’t want to participate in therapy,” said Darlene Bates, Elant at Wappingers Falls Rehabilitation Coordinator and Ali’s supervisor. Ali and Bates have known each other since the 1990s when Ali was a student at SUNY Orange and he completed his field work at Elant at Fishkill where Bates worked at the time.
“It’s his ability to share with the residents his first-hand experience of undergoing a traumatic situation, which resulted in a disability, and then overcoming that disability through perseverance that makes Faz such a valuable employee to the residents of Elant,” said Bates.
“Even though I’m standing, I always feel like I’m a patient and I’m one of them,” said Ali.
“Physical therapy is mental too,” said Ali. “You need to help them. You need to get to them mentally and make the experience positive, whatever it might be. It’s an emotional struggle that they have and I understand.”
He’ll listen to their problems and empathize, but he won’t let them get too down.
“I use my story when they’re a little down,” he said. “I share that with them at the right time when they don’t want to do therapy. We all have struggles in life. This is a little different but I’m very open about it.”
Ten years into living with his disability, Ali saw a flyer while he was getting a prosthetic adjustment at Helen Hayes Hospital. The flyer was an announcement for wheelchair basketball practice with the New York Rollin’ Knicks. He attended the practice and soon after got a call from the coach, Gerry Fleming, who asked him to join the team.
“I’ve been playing wheelchair basketball for six years now and I’ve committed everything I have for those six years to be the best basketball player I can be,” said Ali. “It’s so much harder than standup basketball because your arms become your legs.”
Ali shows off his cuts, blisters and callouses to residents and visitors as badges of honor for the hard work that he puts into his game and the competitive spirit he carries on the court.
“It’s funny because when you see him here he’s so quiet,” said Bates. “But when he’s taking people out on the court, I’m like, really, is that him?”
Ali is thankful for his wife, Danielle, who stuck with him through everything, as well as his two children, Jalen, 9, and Jovani, 5-1/2. He is also looking to give back by starting an adaptive sports program at the Middletown YMCA where he can teach and mentor kids who want to play.
“I feel very blessed to have found wheelchair basketball and want to share the sport with others,” said Ali.
Photo 1: Faizool Ali with his family after the New York Rollin’ Knicks win the championship game.
Photo 2: Elant resident Valerie Towsley is in physical therapy with Faizool Ali, physical therapy assistant.
Photo 3: Elant resident Steven Marks enjoys playing basketball for fun with Faizool Ali at Elant at Wappingers Falls.
Elant is a comprehensive health care system that serves the needs of more than 3,500 individuals throughout the Hudson Valley region. The organization includes six campuses and employs more than 1,200 dedicated individuals. Elant provides a full continuum of care, including Sub-Acute Care and Rehabilitation Services, Nursing Home Care, Assisted Living, Adult Day Care, Retirement Community Living, Home Health Care and a Managed Long Term Care Plan. To learn more, visit .