ST. LOUIS — In a male dominated sport, a St. Louis University assistant professor is projected to be the first woman to compete for team USA in wheelchair rugby at the Paralympic Games this summer.

Sarah Adam was named to the 2022 USA Wheelchair Rugby Training Squad and after winning the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games in November, the elite team earned a spot in the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.

Wheelchair rugby is one of the only sports that is co-ed and high impact in the Paralympics, Adam said, which draws mostly men athletes. She is the only female on her team of 15 other players.

“They don’t treat me any differently when I’m there,” Adam said. “I’m just another athlete.”

While the female locker room atmosphere is about supporting and lifting each other up, Adam said the men do that in a different way.

“They do a little bit more of joking with each other and making fun of each other along the way, but it’s just all love and support,” she said with a smile.

Only 12 out of the 16 team members will get to compete in the Paralympics and Adam is waiting for the spring announcement. Four players will be alternates.

Adam said she has been in starting lineups, so she feels good about her chances at being selected for the Paralympics.

“Really, it’s whatever we can do to build a better team as a unit together and bring everybody up together,” she said.

Adam just returned from a week-long training camp in Birmingham, Ala. where it was a “pretty competitive atmosphere,” she said.

While the team meets a few times a year for valuable training and strategy time, “there’s also this other layer of some healthy competition,” Adam said, among the players who want to be a part of the 12 who get to go to the Paralympics.

Regardless of who is chosen, the team is confident in bringing home the gold.

“We’re feeling really good about what we can do in getting to that gold medal match,” Adam said. “Right now, it’s just a continuation from what we’ve been building over the last three years together and really excited to see what this team can accomplish in Paris.”

Having been a life-long athlete, Adam got involved with rugby as an able-bodied person while volunteering at the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA).

“I loved it immediately,” she said, adding that she loved the high speed and high contact aspects of rugby, as well as the strategy and tactics involved.

During that time, she was attending Washington University for occupational therapy. The year she graduated, in May 2016, Adam was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and lost functional ability and strength in her arms, core and legs.

Realizing she would only be able to be a practicing clinician for a few years, Adam switched her degree to clinical doctorate so she could teach in the future.

After playing wheelchair rugby recreationally, Adam began playing competitively in 2019 and went on to the national team two years later.

“It’s been a wild journey, but an exciting one,” she said.

Adam added that St. Louis University has been very supportive in her Paralympics journey.