As a boy, Ian Jaquiss ’88 played in his three brothers’ pickup games as best he could. He also served as statistician and manager for their school teams.
He swam in the eighth lane of an athletic club pool, while the club’s team practiced in lanes one through seven. But he got no opportunity to join organized sports until he came to USC on a scholarship for physically challenged athletes.
The fact that Jaquiss had been in a wheelchair since being hit by a car at age 2 didn’t stop then-USC swim coach Peter Daland from inviting him to try out for the team.
“When I got to USC,” says Jaquiss, who has full use of his arms but limited use of his legs, “they had the Swim with Mike scholarship and this amazing awareness of people with physical disabilities.” If Jaquiss came to practice and worked hard, Daland told him, he’d have a berth on the team. There would be no special favors, but he would get to swim in some meets.
“The team was great,” Jaquiss recalls. “I didn’t know any of them. I just walked into practice one day – or rather rolled in – and got into the pool and swam. I’m sure there were some funny looks,” though he couldn’t see any with his face in the water. Afterward, Jaquiss went to get dinner at Café ’84 on campus; there he saw some swim team members gesturing to him. “They invited me to sit with them, and we got to know each other,” he says. “We became fast friends almost from the beginning.”
Jaquiss became the first wheelchair athlete in NCAA history to swim for a Division 1 team. Though he never won points in a meet, just being on the team was a triumph. “The situation was perfect for me,” he says. “I had never had that kind of coaching or training. Or been in any team setting before.”
At the 1984 Paralympics Jaquiss had won two bronze medals, and “I desperately wanted to improve on that at Seoul in 1988,” he says. “And I did. I won gold medals in the 50-meter breaststroke and the 200-meter medley relay.” He also set a Paralympics world record in the 50-meter breaststroke in 1986.
After graduating from USC with a degree in English literature, Jaquiss obtained a law degree at the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., and later moved to Portland, Ore., where he’s now executive director of Oregon Disability Sports. Through that private agency, he promotes athletic opportunities for 500 to 700 people a year with physical disabilities. Off the job, he lets off steam playing wheelchair basketball.
“Sports is important for people with disabilities for the same reason it is for able-bodied people,” Jaquiss says. “It’s fun. You meet people. You travel. You learn about yourself. You learn about other people. You gain confidence. It’s just a tremendous socialization experience.”
– Gary Libman