By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
Being scouted by the University of Arizona, becoming a motivational speaker and holding a championship trophy. Those aren’t things anyone expects to happen to them, especially a former juvenile delinquent.
After being in and out of juvenile detention, Mario Moran started that climb after 11:33 p.m. May 27, 2005.
“As a teen I was involved with the wrong activities, gang activities,” Moran said. “I lost myself as a youngster.”
Being involved in gang activities is what lead Moran to be shot in his spine, leaving his lower half paralyzed.
Now, the former wheelchair basketball champion holds himself up by giving motivational speeches across the world and being the center of the documentary “The Rebound.”
It was prom night and Moran was not allowed to go because he didn’t show up to his classes.
After grabbing a couple of beers that night, Moran waited a couple of streets from his New Jersey home, for his friends to go to post-prom parties.
That’s when Moran met Nestor Lopez, who was known as Sancocho. Moran thought himself to be the “don of the hood,” so he wore flashy jewelry to look the part. However, Sancocho liked the way his jewelry looked as well.
“The way he gave the comment wasn’t a nice comment,” Moran said. “He was kind of telling me, he liked what I had on and he wanted to take it.”
After an exchange of words, Sancocho pulled a gun on Moran. In New Jersey, according to Moran, people would often “carry fake guns and rob people.”
After Sancocho shot into the ground and then up in the air, Moran realized that it wasn’t a fake.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I smacked my chest, and I told him, ‘I’m not on the ground. If you’re going to shoot me, shoot me.’”
The instant after Moran smacked his chest for a second time, he went in to throw a punch and knocked Sancocho down. However, as Sancocho hit the ground, the impact made the gun go off. It hit Moran three millimeters below his left nipple at an angle.
“Once the bullet made contact with my spine is when I started losing my legs and started collapsing,” he said.
As it was happening in real time in a matter of seconds, to Moran it felt like 30 to 45 minutes. Luckily, he had his phone clipped to his side and immediately dialed 911.
“All I could feel is my body starting to get tight,” he said. “Every breath I took, it was like flashbacks.”
The life or death struggle forced Moran to realize two things. He had to take shorter breaths to stay alive, and he had to keep fighting. “Because, if you believe in yourself, you can do anything,” he said.
After being rushed to the hospital, it was determined only one doctor had the ability to save Morans’ life. That doctor was on his way to Spain. However, the doctor was notified in time and told Moran’s caregivers to meet him halfway at Newark University.
“They opened me up like a pig on New Years Eve, to reconstruct everything inside,” Moran said.
The next day, Moran made the headlines in the New Jersey Journal: “Teen shot, thought was a fake gun.”
Three years after that night, Moran attended Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. He was stopped by a regular and was told about wheelchair basketball.
Although not excited about the opportunity at first, Moran realized this was his ticket out of Miami for a different life.
“I made a decision because I found out with basketball you can go to college and play for a league overseas,” he said. “But just the people in the community made me want to be a part of it.”
Before his life on the streets, Moran played baseball. It was easy to get back into the training regime, with his vision in mind at all times.
After playing recreational basketball for a time, he was able to travel the country to different camps, like one in Arlington, Texas.
“My game started to elevate more, and some of the guys on the team didn’t appreciate the fact that this guy came in and he is doing better than us,” Moran said.
Moran played for the Miami Heat Wheels for four years. “The Rebound,” a documentary shown at Pima Community College on April 11, depicted his run with the Miami Heat Wheels.
“They go a little deeper on my story, because I wasn’t scared of opening,” he said.
Moran and his team won the league championship trophy in 2013. After the championship, Moran was eventually scouted by the UA.
In the off-season, Moran can be seen around the United States, and soon the world, being a motivational speaker. He started this career officially three years ago.
“There’s a great quote, I forgot who said it, but it says ‘egos trip, but the humble never stumble,’” Moran said. “It’s always good to stay humble but I finally realized that I can help others and be that spark in their lives.”
While speaking, Moran opens up and is able to relate with any background because he believes that “if I went through it, you can do it, anybody can do it.”
At the showing of “The Rebound,” Moran talked to the audience and answered questions about his life and his time playing for UA wheelchair basketball.
“He was loud and aggressive,” Chuck Nyquist, a fellow player on the UA team, said. “But to be honest I needed someone like that to light the spark in me. He’s been like my mentor so far.”
Moran is now attending PCC as the UA has let him continue to be on the team if he is taking any sort of educational courses in Tucson.
While in Tucson, he is also planning to give talks for different companies or schools.
“In my words, I give them the ‘Moran shot of espresso,’” he said. “Let me give you a great start to your day, let me be your voice, your pain.”