Growing up in an orphanage in China, Phillip Croft only had one wish: to feel like he belonged.
Complications at birth left a tumor on Phillip’s spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. When he was one year old, he was abandoned under a bridge by his birth parents. He spent most of his early childhood waiting to find his family.
“It’s every orphan’s dream, to have somewhere to belong and to be loved,” said Phillip.
Little did he know, a family from a place he had never heard of — around the world in Spokane, Washington — would soon make his dreams come true.
Joni Croft and her son Kyle planned to visit Thailand for a mission trip, but after last minute complications, the family decided to visit an orphanage in China instead—that orphanage happened to be Phillip’s.
The Crofts felt an instant bond with Phillip as soon as they met him. And that connection only grew stronger with every moment they spent with him. Phillip knew he wanted Kyle to be his big brother but wasn’t expecting anything as he wished them goodbye. He was used to disappointment, not hope.
When the Crofts returned home to Spokane, there was a void in their hearts they couldn’t ignore. A part of them was still in China. They realized that Phillip belonged with them.
“We can do more than just throw money at this little boy,” said Karl, Joni’s husband. “We can make him a part of our home.”
The Crofts started the 18-month process of officially adopting Phillip into their family. In 2012, they brought their new son home.
Before he arrived, Phillip had never picked up a basketball or thought about playing sports. But once he found ParaSport Spokane, an organization that provides training and competitive athletic opportunities for people with physical disabilities, he felt welcomed and quickly embraced his athletic side.
“Generally coming into ParaSport you feel a sense of belonging. Everybody is in a wheelchair; I don’t have to be like the special kid,” Phillip said.
It didn’t take long for Phillip to exceed everyone's expectations. He went from quickly making the varsity team’s starting line up to traveling the world with ParaSport and winning medals and trophies every step of the way. Phillip is now a High School All-American Paralympian in track.
“I didn’t make this all happen by myself. I have people surrounding me. Sports basically changed my life,” said Phillip.
The latest life changing moment was playing a game of H-O-R-S-E against 2x NBA all-star Isaiah Thomas. To show that disability is not inability, we invited Phillip to play Isaiah at Hoopfest 2019 right in Spokane, Washington.
The game was close, but who came out on top is insignificant compared to the greater message that hundreds of people recognized on the Spokane streets. Despite certain circumstances or obstacles in life, anyone can overcome them and thrive if given the right opportunity and community support. Phillip lives by this every day.
“Just because your legs are not functional and you have a disability, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing anything else,” he said. “I can still go to college, get a job and live on my own, but I might do things way differently, but I still get things done.”
Phillip has traveled the world and experienced things he never could have imagined—all because of his own determination and basketball. The power of sports also taught him a new way to look at the world.
“You’d be surprised how much I can learn from basketball. You learn how to interact with people. You learn how to solve problems where you have disagreements,” said Phillip. “It taught me to look at things from different angles. I never see my disability as a limit.”