Jeff Jacobs: CT family of amputee athletes inspires others by 'just living life'

Photo of Jeff Jacobs
Cheshire High School sophomore track athlete Matthew Reid poses with his sisters, Sarah, left, and Emily, right, in Cheshire, Conn. Jan. 16, 2023. Sarah is a freshman basketball player at Cheshire High and seventh-grader Emily plays basketball at Dodd Middle School.
Cheshire High School sophomore track athlete Matthew Reid poses with his sisters, Sarah, left, and Emily, right, in Cheshire, Conn. Jan. 16, 2023. Sarah is a freshman basketball player at Cheshire High and seventh-grader Emily plays basketball at Dodd Middle School.Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

They compete because they love to compete and not to inspire us.

Still, they inspire us.

The email request was to interview her runner with prosthetic legs. Cheshire boys indoor track coach Pam Gunneson answered, “Matt Reid is an amazing young man …The whole family is amazing.”

Consider those words fair warning.

A 16-year-old sophomore, Matt is a bi-lateral below knee amputee. He runs indoor and outdoor track and cross country. He is an outstanding wheelchair basketball player for the Connecticut-based Ryan Martin Foundation team.

His sister Sarah, a 15-year-old ninth grader, is also a bi-lateral below knee amputee who plays on the Cheshire freshman basketball team.

There’s more.

Their 12-year-old sister Emily, a seventh grader at Dodd Middle School, was born without a left hand and most of a forearm. She plays basketball for Dodd. She swims with the Cheshire Sea Dogs against able-bodied kids and with the Hospital for Special Care para-swim team.

There may be missing limbs on the Reid family tree, yet, as Gunneson, said the whole family is amazing.

“We are open to having stories about the kids to bring awareness about people with disabilities,” Guy Reid said. “We like to say they have different abilities. As parents we understand that the kids can be viewed as an inspiration to others, but to us they are just regular kids playing sports. 

“There are lot of kids in Connecticut that have a disability and don’t play any sports because they don’t know what’s out there. The more we can get word out that they can do this, get them out of the house, the better.”

For Guy and Linda Reid, this also is a story about adoption.

“We were older when we got married, we weren’t going to have any biological kids, so we looked at adoption,” Guy said. “The adoption process is very slow in China.”

The process moves faster for children with special needs.

“That’s how we saw Sarah,” Guy said. “She was the first one we adopted in 2010. After we brought her home, we said she shouldn’t be an only child. I said let’s go back.”

In 2012, they adopted Emily from China.

Late in 2013, Linda saw a boy on the adoption website. Like Sarah, he was born with fibular hemimelia.

“I said, ‘Let’s go get him.’

“Are you serious?” Linda asked.

Guy was serious. The girls were adopted when they were very young. Matt was seven when he arrived from China. He didn’t speak a word of English.

Fast forward. All three are straight A students. They all play the piano. Matt plays the violin. Sarah plays the trumpet. Emily even plays the cello. Matt is shopping around for colleges with wheelchair basketball teams. He’d love to attend Michigan.

He began running indoor track at Cheshire last year to get in good shape for wheelchair basketball. He ran with his everyday prosthetic legs before fitting some smaller running blades. He ran the 55 and 300. He had a ton of fun and decided to do the 100 and 200 in outdoor. He added the long jump.

This year, wearing the same legs as he had for indoor and outdoor, Matt ran cross country. He ran the New Haven 5K on Labor Day and a 5K on Thanksgiving.

In August, the Reids started the process of looking for the bigger, cheetah running prosthetic legs. They located the Jordan Thomas Foundation, which provides children affected with limb loss the prostheses they need. Insurance companies consider running prostheses luxury items and do not cover them.

“We were able to find a foundation that donated the hardware and our prosthetist donated his time to build them,” Guy said.

The prosthetic legs arrived a few days before Christmas.

“I was so excited,” Matt said. “They gave me more rebound. But they’re also heavier and the blades are bigger. I had to adjust to it. It threw off my usual running form. The new blade is more to the back.”

A trip to the prosthetist for an adjustment helped. Still adjusting to running the curves indoor, he’s focusing on the 55 with them for now.

“People come up to me at meets and say good luck or good job,” Matt said. “Some say, ‘Those things are sick!’ It’s pretty cool. My old running legs were really helpful, but these ones make me look indestructible.”

Sarah tried out and made the freshman basketball team. We’re not talking wheelchair basketball. She essentially uses her everyday prosthetics.

“There are sometimes when it’s hard to keep up, but she tries really hard,” Guy said. “Running blades don’t work very well. You can’t stop.”

Your sister making the standup basketball team?

“Pretty cool,” Matt said. “But honestly, I don’t really realize how different our family is compared to others. It’s so normal now. I don’t think about it. I know my sisters. It’s not like I’m surprised they do something.”

While no hand or forearm are obviously not optimal — no prothesis or paddle is allowed in swimming — Emily has shown potential to the point where her para-swim coach has gotten her to swim 4-5 times a week including with the Sea Dogs. The kind of potential that has her looking toward the ParaPan-Am Games in the future.

Did the kids inspire themselves?

“Well, there was a lot of competition,” Guy said. “A lot of it was grades. A lot of it was reading books. Sarah was reading a lot of books and was receiving accolades at school for it. Matthew pushed himself to read a lot more. That led to Emily reading. They compare grades and who’s better at basketball.”

Amputee or not, it’s called sibling rivalry. Matt said it has subsided some with maturity.

“It’s really no different than raising any other kids,” Guy said. “They still call you any time of the day for different things. It ends up being a little bit more time consuming to get the prosthetics on and help figure out different things. We belong to different groups of parents of kids with disabilities. They’ve been very helpful, they helped us navigate dealing with things like insurance. That’s how we found the foundation for Matthew.”

It was at Camp No Limits at Quinnipiac where Matt first found out about wheelchair basketball. He hopped in a chair and wheeling around as fast you could at 11 or 12 was fun.

“I found out this team (Ryan Martin) was right next to me in New Britain,” he said. “I wanted to play. You’d think it would be easy but it’s really hard. You have to push, dribble a ball, look around so you don’t crash into anyone.”

He had been using his coach’s chair before and he compared it to playing in an oversized shoe. He has a new customized chair, funded by a grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation and a GoFundMe through Guy’s co-workers,

His team competed in Varsity Invitational Division of the NWBA national championships last March in Wichita. Matt was named to the all-division team. He wants to take wheelchair basketball as far as it will take him. The crazy, ultimate dream is competing in the Paralympics in basketball and track.

The other night, the UConn women’s basketball team arrived at the Hartford Boys & Girls Club for an event with Ryan Martin. Paige Bueckers jumped in a chair and was on a relay team with Matt.

“We were teaching them how to play basketball in a wheelchair,” he said. “Although they’re the best, it’s really challenging to do it in a chair.”

Matt is an officer in Mock Trial in school. He wants to be an attorney.

“I like defending what I think is right,” Matt said. “I like arguing. My parents can tell you about that.”

And they can tell you about kids who inspire without it being their mission.

“Before I got into running, I think I was kind of lazy,” Matt said. “When I do run, for me it’s no different from walking or doing my homework. People tell me I’m inspiring, but I see me doing my own thing. Their perspective is interesting to me. I understand they see someone with no legs competing and say that’s pretty cool. But I’m just living my life.”

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123