OPINION: One step at a time: HOPE Network

John Sikora has always been a great friend of mine. 


When I think about the word “hope” I think about people who give others an opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

HOPE Network of Pittsburgh, is a non-profit organization that is focused on providing adaptive sports and recreational activities for children and adults with physical disabilities. This group gave me opportunities to have fun in more ways than one. 

I remember the first time I went to a Saturday Sports event sponsored by HOPE Network when I was in middle school. It was held at The Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh. I was both nervous and excited. The people in charge and the participants were all so nice and they each had their own story. Some used wheelchairs because they were in accidents and some because they were born with or developed a condition that prevented them from walking. It was awesome to get to know people who were like me – not disabled, but differently abled.  

I soon looked forward to the monthly trip through Squirrel Hill to get to Saturday Sports. The people there became my friends. I looked forward to socializing, stretching and playing various sports with them.

Wheelchair rugby is a physical sport. It’s like football, but the action doesn’t stop. My good friend, Max Colecchi, is one tough dude, so it was a challenge to take the ball off of him. Of all the sports I was introduced to, this was my favorite.

After a while, we would move on to wheelchair basketball and the game would be dominated by John Sikora, Chaz Kellem and Chris Mielo. 

Chaz and Chris were the jokesters of the group. They were so fast in their wheelchairs that I could never catch up. They are both amazing guys. 

John Sikora was the leader of the group at the time. He is a special person with a heart of gold.  He has a kind demeanor that shines through to everyone he meets. 

John has an unbelievable story. He had earned a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh before he got into a car crash that paralyzed him from the waist down. 

John made the decision to not be defined by that horrible accident. He not only went to the University of Pittsburgh, but he graduated from there and became the coach of the U.S. Women’s Paralympic Basketball Team. Because of John, my family and I had the opportunity to meet the U.S. Men’s Paralympic Team a few years ago. It was an amazing experience.

I will never forget when John took a group of us water skiing. Yes, you read that right. I got the opportunity to go water skiing with HOPE Network. John hooked me up to the back of the boat and pulled me along while I sat in an attached seat. This experience on the Allegheny River was exhilarating. It was something I never thought I would have been able to do.


I appreciate John and everyone at HOPE Network because they showed me that I could be active and that I could even participate in team sports. They also taught me to keep looking forward and to enjoy life’s many possibilities.