Condition: Congenital Hip Dysplasia
As captain of the Sacramento Rollin Kings, Eric Harris shouts encouraging words as he dribbles, passes and spins his way on the basketball court. His confidence is contagious, as both his teammates’ efforts and the scoreboard suggest. Clearly, Harris is comfortable in his chair on the court.
It is a feeling fostered by his experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. Harris was born with congenital hip dysplasia, which affected his ability to walk and run like other kids. The medical condition, Harris explains, caused nerve damage to his left hip, left knee, left ankle, left foot, right ankle and right foot.
When he was 10 years old, he became a patient at the Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, where he had several surgeries and was fitted for braces by the pediatric orthotic and prosthetics team.
Harris vividly remembers staying at the hospital after he had knee surgery when he was in middle school. “I enjoyed being able to watch movies and eat the great food. I had friends and family visit,” he recalls.
But it was the Shriners Hospital community that sparked the real transformation. “It opened my eyes to things that I could do with other people who were similar to me and had disabilities like me,” said Harris.
“I gained confidence and had a great sense of community that I carried with me from Shriners. I use that today when I work and spend time with my teammates who have disabilities.”
Ironically, it was a brief disappointment that opened a door of opportunity for Harris. When he did not make his high school golf team, he turned to wheelchair sports. “My dad and I found wheelchair basketball online. I went to Berkeley to meet the group with the Bay Area Outreach and Recreational Program, and my life changed forever,” he said.
His skill earned him a scholarship to the University of Arizona, where he played wheelchair basketball and traveled throughout the country with his team. The experience not only honed his athletic skills but sparked an interest in advocacy and disability awareness.
Harris spent three summers in Washington D.C., before earning his law degree at the University of Oregon. His interest in public policy was shaped by his experience working with the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (AAPD), the Democratic National Committee and as an intern for California representative Barbara Lee.
Now, back in his hometown of Sacramento, Harris is a legislative advocate for the California / Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP. He spends many evenings and weekends on the basketball court at practice and games with the Sacramento Rollin Kings. There he is an inspiration for both his teammates and fans, including Shriners Hospital patients and people with disabilities who see they, too, have the ability to compete in sports.
“I am interested in helping people and communities,“ says Harris, who shares his passion to make a difference both on and off the basketball court.