Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Paul Schulte returns to U.S. Paralympic wheelchair basketball team at age 45

At 45 years old, wheelchair basketball player Paul Schulte is going to his fourth Paralympic Games — and first since 2012 — after ending an eight-year retirement last year.

The men’s and women’s rosters for the Paris Games were announced over Easter weekend.

The U.S. men eye a third consecutive Paralympic title. The U.S. women won three of the last five titles and took bronze in Tokyo.

Schulte made his senior national team debut in 1998 and played at the Paralympics in 2000, 2008 and 2012, earning two bronze medals.

He retired in 2015. Schulte left competition to prioritize time with his family, his job as an engineering manager at Top End Sports, LLC, which makes recreational adaptive sports equipment, and serving at his church.

He still played recreationally on and off, but things changed early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He met three older men who became athletic mentors: Heinz Frei, a Swiss Paralympic legend with gold medals among track and field, hand cycling and cross-country skiing; Carlos Moleda, a five-time Ironman World champion in the hand cycling division; and Krige Schabort, a six-time Paralympian who also won the Ironman hand cycling division.

So Schulte picked up hand cycling.

“They didn’t say this, but what I learned was, wow, us basketball players think that we’re all washed up when we’re over 40,” Schulte said. “In these endurance sports, I was a baby.

“They taught me what my body was still capable of.”

Over the next three years, Schulte said he lost nearly 50 pounds and went from lifting 45-pound dumbbells to 85-pound dumbbells.

Feeling strong, he dipped back into competitive wheelchair basketball, including at last April’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship tournament.

There, he spoke with former teammate Steve Serio, a four-time Paralympian and captain of the Tokyo gold-medal team. Serio offered words of encouragement should Schulte want to get serious with a comeback.

Schulte jokingly asked if Serio could put in a good word for him with the national team coaches.

Eight months later, Schulte received an invite to try out for the national team. Schulte accepted and in January flew to Colorado Springs for an evaluation.

He made the 16-player national team pool. Another selection camp was held last week to determine the final 12-man Paralympic roster.

“I felt good enough about last week’s tryout that when they were reading the names, I felt inside like I had it,” Schulte said. “I thought they would read my name, they did, and I cried.”

Schulte also shed tears back in 2016, when he called the Americans’ victory in the Paralympic gold-medal game as an NBC Sports commentator. The Paralympic teams that Schulte played on never reached a gold-medal game.

“I was so genuinely proud of the guys that they went and accomplished what some of us had strived for decades to accomplish,” he said.

Now, Schulte joins the reigning Paralympic and world champion team with a chance to win his first Paralympic gold medal at age 45.

“The first goal was even to get invited, and then the second goal was to survive tryouts, the third goal was to make the team,” he said. “The fourth goal is to contribute in some way.”

He will be the oldest U.S. Paralympic men’s wheelchair basketball player since 2000, when Dave Kiley played at 47. Schulte is nine years older than anyone else on the Paris team. The team’s youngest member, 19-year-old AJ Fitzpatrick, was not alive when Schulte made his Paralympic debut.

During this comeback, Schulte’s wife, Meghan, and 14-year-old son, Brady, urged him to watch “The Rookie,” a 2002 film based on the true story of pitcher Jim Morris, who made his MLB debut at age 35 after nearly a decade out of professional baseball.

Schulte watched it again on his flight home from Colorado Springs after being named to the Paralympic team last Saturday.

“I was trying not to let anybody see me,” he said, “because it was emotional all over.”

Jake Williams, a two-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball gold medalist, now coaches at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.