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Heather Is A Role Model Despite A Prosthetic Leg, She’s A Star On and Off the Volleyball Court

NBA fans remember the heroics of Willis Reed when he limped onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Playing with a deep thigh injury, Reed outjumped the taller Wilt Chamberlain at the opening tip and scored two buckets in the first few minutes. Reed inspired his New York Knicks’ teammates to a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

An even more remarkable feat is taking place at Jack Britt High School. Freshman Heather Erickson has overcome 14 or more major surgeries and a leg amputation to start on the Buccaneer volleyball team, thanks to a prosthetic leg, hard work and faith. Heather was born with Pseudoarthrosis, which causes the bottom of the tibia and fibula to not form.

Her family has been there to support her the whole way despite her difficulties. Kevin and Brenda Erickson had to watch their daughter go from one operation to another, one complication spurring the next.

“It was tough,” Kevin said. “She spent about a week or so out of the hospital before she knew another major one was coming. She would start to get nervous so that made it rougher on everybody, but she recovered fine all the time.”

“It was really hard,” Brenda said. “She just wanted to be a kid and wanted to go jump on the trampoline.”

The surgeries didn’t stop Heather from doing that.

“I got chewed out by doctors because after a surgery she would be out on a trampoline,” Kevin said.

The surgeries got to be too much to handle, so the Ericksons opted for amputation when Heather was 9 years old. A prosthetic leg at least allows for mobility, something Heather obviously craves.

“When she got her leg amputated she got to be a kid again and have her childhood back,” Brenda said. “She told her first track coach, ‘I don’t care if I lose every race, I just want to run.’”

To go along with good parents, Heather also has a good sister to learn from. Stephanie Erickson was an all-conference volleyball player last year at Jack Britt and is now attending UNC.

Heather watched Stephanie play when she was younger and wanted to play volleyball with her.

“She wanted to play like her sister and she’s been playing with her sister for so long,” Kevin said.

Of course, like all sibling rivalries, Heather wanted to be better than her big sis.

“I had to make sure I was better than her,” Heather said.

That friendly competition paid dividends for Heather when she began playing volleyball on her sister’s traveling team.

“Heather went on the court and you could tell the other moms were watching her because of her prosthetic leg,” Brenda said. “She aced her first serve and they were like, ‘Wow, she is good!’”

So good that she is the first freshman to make the varsity team for head coach Reggie Fields in his four years at the helm of the program. That says a lot when the cornucopia of talent at the school has included four Mid-Southeastern Conference Players of the Year, two outright championships and last year’s co-conference championship, all within the seven years that the school has been operating. Big sis Stephanie was a part of that co-conference championship last year.

Heather is excited that Stephanie is going to come to one of her games this year to cheer her on and give her some pointers.

“I want to show her how good I’ve gotten,” Heather said. “She’ll help me with stuff and help me become better.”

Heather has come a long way since playing Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation volleyball and in middle school. Her play has earned her a spot on a U.S. Paralympics women’s volleyball team. Heather has been training with the team since February and traveled to Shanghai, China, to compete against Malaysia, China and Australia, among others.

The team won the bronze medal at the Athens Games in 2004 and looks to continue its success at the Beijing Games in 2008. Fields said that playing at that level has more than prepared Heather for varsity volleyball.

“Their focus is core strengths, working on abs, hand-eye coordination and speed,” Fields said. “She gets to balls quicker than most players and sees things before they happen. She has responded well to everything we have asked her to do.”

Heather realizes the importance of representing the school and is ready to do whatever it takes to help the team.

“It’s a big achievement,” Heather said. “I love playing for the school because you’re doing something for the school and you’re a part of it.”

Heather’s goals are to be at the same skill level with teammates, help the team get better and “get more developed as a player so by senior year we rock.” She also wants to attend UNC or the University of Central Oklahoma, where the Paralympics team trains.

Until then, in a school full of excellent teachers, Heather is going to be one of the best people to learn from.

“Heather really wants to help people along,” Brenda said. “God gives us things for a reason. Heather is a role model.”