Identical twins battling a severe form of muscular dystrophy are celebrating the accomplishment of a lifetime - representing their country as power wheelchair soccer players.
Troy and Andrew Chauppetta, 24, were born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that has no known cure and causes rapid muscle loss first in the upper legs and then the arms.
By 12 years old, Troy and Andrew could no longer walk. Because they were so athletic, a friend suggested they try power soccer, and the brothers were quickly hooked.
"Power soccer is everything to me," Troy said. "The second I got on the court, I fell in love with the sport right away."
The brothers recently took out loans to buy specialized power wheelchairs that allow them to play competitively. What initially was an outlet for them quickly became much more, as the twins began traveling with their intramural team to national competitions.
"The sport that started out as this intramural, cute sport I was taking my teenage sons to, to get some aggression out and feel part of a team, has evolved into this huge sport where our club team is one of the best teams in the country," said their father Mark Chauppetta at the twins' practice at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children on Wednesday night.
Mark is the executive director of the Wheelchair Strong Foundation, which raises money to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy and support adaptive sports.
Last month, the brothers traveled to Minnesota for try-outs for Team USA 2021. They endured three long days of intense drills, workouts and games. After they returned home, the coach called.
"When I first started playing, I said to my dad, 'I'm going to play for Team USA,'" Troy said. "And my dream came true, and I'm excited to support my country and play for my country."
The brothers' disease has stripped their ability to run but not their determination to play or their courage to fight.
"When I'm out on the court, I forget about everything," Andrew said. "All the things that go on with my disability. All the negative things."
Mark, who calls himself his boys' superfan, is amazed by their skill, proud of their passion and grateful for the sport that makes his sons feel whole.
"It's been a blessing not only for them but a blessing for me," Mark said. "I forget that they're disabled. They're just athletes and they're just playing. They're superstars."
Troy and Andrew will begin practicing with their team in Florida in January. They will travel the country every three months to practice and bond with their teammates before the World Cup in Australia in November 2021.
The team is made up of people with various disabilities but ones they are not defined by.
The Chauppettas have begun fundraising to cover their travel and special expenses for the trip, including an aide who will need to travel to Australia with them. They have also begun looking for a sponsor for their team.
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