The year was 2004 and Hansel Salvador Donato, a former professional basketball player who had even made it to the national team, was playing a street game in his native Santo Domingo, specifically in the Los Mina neighborhood, one of the poorest in the Dominican capital. . Suddenly, an urgent call interrupts the dive with friends. The screams multiply. Your son, Hansel Emmanuel –This is how the name appears in their official profiles- Donato, had just had an accident a few meters from the canchita. Playing with friends, the boy from six years he had climbed a wall under construction, which had given way and trapped him. The life of the love of his life was at risk. There he went, running, to try to save him. They were almost two hours, together with a rescue team, to remove him from the place and take him to the hospital, alive but badly injured, with an injury that would change the life of the whole family.
“The brick block fell on his chest but especially crushed his left arm and tendons. No one was left alive and there was no way to save his arm.” This is how Katia Domínguez, the boy’s mother, told it in a note with ESPN, unable to hold back her tears as she recalled the tragic accident. “Everything fell apart for me. I was in his care at the time and when they had to amputate his arm, I felt that it was my fault, that everything was over. Luckily, God showed us another way.”, the father admitted, referring to the present day that seems more like a movie than real life.
The boy, despite not having a large part of his left arm (it was amputated below the shoulder), He became a star of the Dominican seed playing conventional basketball and, in January 2021, he made the jump to a secondary school in Florida (Life Christian Academy), where he shone to such an extent that the University of Tennessee State offered him a scholarship in August to study and play in the top division of the NCAA. A story of overcoming that excites, inspires and teaches. Which shows, as Emmanuel asserts, that “no disability or limitation defines you, that you have to work and go for your dreams. And mine is to play in the NBA. I feel like I can.”
When Kikima played, as the father was known on the island, his son always wanted to be there. “I would cry if I didn’t take him with me and I asked the mother to intervene,” recalls Salvador. But nevertheless, there was another sport that he preferred until the day of the accident: baseball, the most popular in his country. But, of course, since the amputation, many things have not been the same. “I couldn’t do anything and I needed help for everything. I couldn’t grab a glass, tie my shoelaces or change my clothes,” Enmanuel recounted. And that reality hit his parents, especially when the boy still didn’t understand what had happened…
– Daddy, when will my arm grow? Daddy, why do they have both arms and I don’t?
They were devastating questions that, in the face of the parents’ doubts, he himself had answers that marked a special temper and gave hope thinking about the future. “I cried and he gave me strength. He told me, ‘daddy, don’t worry, I’m going to be fine. I already know how to do some things’”, recounted the father. And, precisely, when he talks about the things he learned to do, it is necessary to add “playing basketball”, the sport that would restore his joy and enthusiasm. “I started playing it after the accident and, of course, The first few times were difficult experiences because I lost my balance, I went to one side, and I couldn’t control the ball well.”, recalled who at the age of 14 realized that he could really be someone different in this sport, despite having a disability.
Little by little, the boy became famous in the country. He was no longer Kikima’s son but the teenager who stood out despite not having an arm. “It was hard for me to let him go… At first I didn’t want him to play for fear that he would suffer a blow and get frustrated by some situation that he couldn’t solve, but I understood that I should let the situation flow, that I should look for dreams after such an effort”Salvador said. Little by little, his plays began to go viral on social networks and one of the many people who saw them was Moisés Micael, a former teammate of Salvador in the Dominican who at that time lived in the United States and was the head coach of the Life Christian secondary school. Academy, in Kissimmee, Florida. The former player was impressed and contacted Salvador to find out the story and invite Enmanuel.
Thus, was that, in January 2021, the versatile player -Forward who plays shooting guard and even base- who today measures 1m96 and is 18 years old took a plane, without knowing the USA or speaking a word of English. The first thing he did, as soon as he landed, was to reunite with his father, who had moved there a few years ago, after the dissolution of the couple and the need to find a better economic situation. The impact that Emmanuel had was immediate, as fast as in the team’s first training session.
“I remember it occurred to me to say that whoever missed layups would have to do push-ups on the floor. So, when the time came for Emmanuel to fail, all the boys looked at me as if to say ‘what now?’ That’s when I realized why… But I didn’t think of an alternative when he threw himself on the floor and started doing them… There were 20 one-arm push-ups…”. Moisés was moved to tears when he told the story. “In that moment it changed us with those 20 push-ups. To all, coaches and players. They all said ‘wow, I want to be better’. It was an enormous demonstration of will and integrity, which motivated everyone in the gym”, he said after drying his tears.
“Disability is nothing, it happens to anyone. You have to keep going and never give up. Never look back. It’s hard to recover from and it’s frustrating. But God and the dream of being like my dad inspired me.”Emmanuel explained. Moses took the floor again. “Some have doubted his ability on the pitch and even think the social media videos are faked. But when they see it live, their jaws drop. He is a freak of nature, he has a rare gift.
“There are many players with two hands and two arms who cannot do everything he does”, assured the coach who was perplexed when he gave him the opportunity. It is impressive, beyond his athletic ability and versatility that do not seem to be diminished by the lack of that arm, how he manages to catch the ball with the part of his arm that is missing, the way he builds and throws ( with good efficiency), and the way it penetrates to both sides. “When I had him in front of me I realized that he could do anything, that he is really good. At first, we thought that he couldn’t go to his left and we forced him to that hand, to that place, but we realized that it wasn’t enough either. He is very fast and handles the ball and profiles very well”, explained Angel Montas, a classmate at the Florida secondary school.
On the way to achieving the Florida state championship, the Dominican averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, generating interest from the university world, especially from the faculty that ended up offering him the scholarship. In December, a few weeks ago, he even won a dunk contest in City Palms, Florida, giving a show and a lecture with a mixture of fluidity brought from the cradle and a technique that has been refined. In the NCAA, the 350-college tournament that is the hotbed of the NBA, he will be the fourth player with one arm to be on a roster. The last one was Zach Hodskins, a player from the University of Florida who took over from two previous ones, Grant Dykstra (he lost his arm as a child and, after 16 operations, averaged 17 points and 5.5 rebounds for NCAA II) and Kevin Laue (pivot of 2m10 who managed to add 20 caps in a game and who in 2009 became the first one-armed player to play in the NCAA).
This boy, whose sports references are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, In this way, it will achieve a milestone that, together with its Hollywood history and viralized actions on social networks, has made it a social media event. To the point of exceeding 1 million followers on Instagram, positioning himself only behind Mikey Williams and Bronny James, the two sensations that, for different reasons, the American secondary school has today.
“I don’t put limits on myself and anything you say I can’t do, I’ll do three times better. I am focused on being in the draft and then in the NBA. I feel like I was born to succeed, no matter what happened to me. God has a purpose and I am on his mission. Everything I do is for him and my family. They are everything”, he counted without fear in a last note in the Orlando Sentinel, always speaking in Spanish, since learning English is a new barrier that he is gradually overcoming.
“He says it will be an NBA, but I only hope that they can see it and I know that he will go far because of his great dedication. He is my beloved son who will go as far as he wants. He was never left with the physical limitation. Not even with me being your idol. Now you are mine, my teacher, because of that desire for life,” assured the father who inspired him. A boy and an example not only for the father. One of those inspiring cases that serve to believe that dreams can come true, although the obstacles at times seem overwhelming.
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