Animas High School student Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss was honored by the Center for Native American Youth for his work in promoting wheelchair basketball on reservations.
Noah, 17, was named a 2016 Champion for Change for co-founding the Tribal Adaptive Organization with his father, Jason.
“We started with a $10,000 grant from the Billy Mills Running Strong for Native American Youth Dreamstarter program to host wheelchair basketball on the reservations,” Noah said at the awards presentation in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 23. “We wanted to use sports as a tool to change and impact the lives of disabled Native Americans.”
Noah has used a wheelchair since 2009, when his family’s vehicle was hit head-on by a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel. His stepmother, Cassandra Yazzie-Hotchkiss, was killed, and his younger siblings, Dante Hawkins and Amada Hotchkiss, were seriously injured in the crash.
“In the hospital, finally realizing I couldn’t use my legs, I couldn’t walk, when I used to play soccer, I used to play basketball, it really impacted me,” Noah said. “I was really into sports. It made me feel like I had no value in this world anymore.”
His dad, he said, made him go rafting and camping, and eventually took Noah skiing with the Durango Adaptive Sports Association. After attending wheelchair basketball camps, Noah said he was pushed to go further by other wheelchair-using athletes.
“As I look back at it now,” he said, “after all those experiences, our team, the Phoenix Suns wheelchair basketball team, is the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and I’m the fastest under-21 monoskier in the world.”
Noah is pursuing championships in multiple sports, he said.
“I’m not seeing barriers I can’t get over anymore, but I’m seeing barriers I can overcome,” he said. “Now I’m always up for challenges.”
The center, a policy program at the Aspen Institute, hosted a series of events in Washington, D.C., to honor the five young leaders selected for 2016.
While in the nation’s capital, they met with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, White House staff, members of Congress and other federal agency officials, where they discussed the challenges their Native American peers face across the country.
“Being recognized as a Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth was an amazing experience,” Noah said, “and I’m motivated to expand my efforts and make an even greater impact in my community.”