FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s a whole new world for Fort Wayne native, Jeff Butler, who now has a Paralympic silver medal hanging around his neck for wheelchair rugby.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” he said. “It didn’t really sink in until my roommate picked me up, him and my girlfriend, and painted the car with ‘Good work Paralympian,’ ‘Team U.S.A. silver medalist,’ which was really neat.”
His new celeb status even has delivery drivers excited to see him.
“She asked if I was a Paralympian and I’m like ‘yeah, I just got back’ and she had watched them on T.V. and wanted to take a picture with me,” Butler said. “So, that was really awesome.”
The Homestead High School grad has played wheelchair rugby since he was 15 years old, just a couple of years after a car accident left him partially paralyzed.
“A lot of people in Fort Wayne have seen him over the years training at the Jorgensen YMCA and he’d push around the track and draw a lot of attention,” explained Jeff’s dad, Steve Butler. “Everybody would ask ‘what are you doing? what are you doing here?’ and he’d say ‘I’m training to get into the Olympics someday.”
Jeff’s dad said the family is proud of his Paralympic performance.
“We’re incredibly proud, but I think we’re more proud of the dedication and the time and the effort that he put in the process to get to Rio,” he said.
In Rio, the Team USA wheelchair Rugby team took down France, Sweden, Japan, and Canada. They lost in the finals to Australia 59-58.
“Obviously, we finished with silver which isn’t quite where we wanted to finish,” Butler said. “We had our eyes on the gold, but we loss by a point in double overtime which is a little frustrating but I think overall as a team we played a really solid game. So, it’s hard to be too disappointed with silver.”
Many are calling Butler an inspiration, but it’s not his favorite label.
“He wants to be recognized as an athlete and not just an inspiration,” Jeff’s dad explained. “We see it as ‘Oh what a great job, how inspiring.’ He sees it as ‘I’m a top quality athlete.'”
Butler said he’s not at the end of the Paralympic road just yet.
“I’ve got the itch now to go back and try for one more in Tokyo 2020 and hopefully come away with gold for sure,” he said.
Butler plays for the club wheelchair rugby team, Texas Stampede, in Austin, Texas. They won the 2016 national championship. The team has produced 10 Paralympians.