In the summer of 1996, 20-year-old Downers Grove resident Jeff Yackley was driving a motorcycle with his future wife, Julianne, behind him in Frankfort.
He collided head on with a pickup truck and suffered permanent nerve damage to his left leg. He said he has a case of foot drop and the accident separated his hip from his body.
Julianne suffered injuries too, but since she landed on top of Jeff after the impact, her injuries were not as severe or as long lasting.
For Jeff, who was active in sports at Downers Grove North and the College of DuPage, his days of athletics seemed over and the disability has forced him to wear an ankle foot orthotic brace.
Yackley, now a 56-year-old Lemont resident, is a pitcher for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association Hawks. The Hawks hosted and participated in the USA Wheelchair Softball World Series, which was scheduled from Thursday through Saturday on five fields in the parking lot at Ozinga Field in Crestwood. The teams cannot maneuver on grass or turf so the concrete outside the stadium served the athletes well.
Yackley is also a member of Team USA, which is coached by Frankfort’s Keith Wallace and Oak Lawn’s Sue Dineen.
At age 20, Yackley said he accepted his fate.
“I wasn’t bitter, and I was young enough where I was able to stay active, even though I couldn’t do the same things at the level that I was at,” he said. “I had to use my right leg more than I used to.
“No bitterness. The Lord has a strange way of changing plans and details, and you have to go along with stuff.”
He said his one regret about how things turned out was not knowing adaptive sports were around. Adaptive sports were not heavily publicized back then and there was no internet to get the word out.
Yackley said he learned about it on a mission trip to Kenya seven years ago. His roommate was Wallace, who is also a coach and executive director of Lincolnway Special Recreation Association.
Wallace took one look at Yackley’s brace and decided he was a perfect candidate for wheelchair sports.
“I wish I would have discovered these adaptive sports when I was in my 20s,” Yackley said. “Who knows what I could have done? But I’ve certainly been blessed. I have been able to play some basketball and what a humbling sport that is. These players are much better than I am. They are faster and better. It’s passed me up a little bit.”
Yackley is in his 23rd year at the Links at Carillon in Plainfield and has been the director of golf there since 2008. He is also the captain of the Chicago Bears Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association’s wheelchair football team and was to participate in a tournament Saturday and Sunday at the College of Lake County at Grayslake.
“I want to hang on for as long as I can and I want to do this until my body gives out,” he said. “I feel like I’m 30 and I love my team. The Lord hath blessed me to be able to come out here and physically hold up and play.”
The Hawks, who finished third in the World Series in 2021, opened the 17-team, double-elimination tournament with a 15-0 win over the West Michigan Rollin Whitecaps and a 13-2 triumph over the Deep South Hurricanes.
News updates from the south suburbs delivered every Monday and Wednesday
Other members of Wallace’s roster are Jake Williams, Devin Lockett, Will Smith, Paul Smith, Keith Cooper, Jimmy Jackson, Billy Smith, Dan Douglas, JR Boyer, Dino Ramirez, Alex Parra, Drew Cichon, Jay Robinson, Justin Hillman, Juan Ortiz , Jorge Alfaro, Dan Palmer and Nicki Vansa.
The Nebraska Barons are the defending World Series champs and are the top seed this year. They won their first two games by a combined score of 31-5.
The team that came the farthest was an all-star squad from Japan. It opened the series seeded fifth and beat the Houston Astros, 15-1 and knocked off the fourth-seeded Columbus Pioneers, 16-7.
After a 13-hour flight, Japan players spent some time in Chicago a few days before the tournament and Thursday night planned on taking in a Windy City Thunderbolts game.
Coach Yuta Saito said this group is together only for one tournament and the players will go back to Japan and will disperse to their various teams.
“Of course, they want to win this tournament,” Saito said. “The players want to gain experience playing overseas. When they get back home, they will have the experiences of playing teams like these.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.