St. Petersburg, Florida -- Over 20 years ago, Cliff McDowell returned to America after serving six months in Desert Storm. While in Kuwait, he didn't get a scratch on him. Here on home soil, his whole life changed.

"They came in and said, 'Lieutenant McDowell, you're paralyzed,'" he recalled.

McDowell had flipped his car and broken his neck. He feared that he'd lost his independence. He feared he'd lost his competitive fire.

Then, while attending a pro basketball game the following year, he was introduced to a new sport that eventually led him to today, where he is a part of one of the top wheelchair basketball teams in the country.

"There are a thousand things that I cannot do anymore, but there still are ten thousand things I can do," said McDowell. "That's kind of what I've discovered through sports."

McDowell, along with other former servicemen and civilians alike, plays for the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team. The Strong Dogs, who compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, have gotten steadily better after six seasons as a team.

"Last year, we went to the championship game and lost to Detroit," said Jose Fernandez, who ended up in a wheelchair after falling 700 feet in a training exercise while in the Marine Corp. "Progressively, we've gotten better and we're looking to make it back and actually come away with a victory."

The Strong Dogs have a tournament coming up in Fort Lauderdale where they will take on the Miami Heat Wheels. The two rivals have split their last six meetings.

The Strong Dogs practice at the All Peoples Life Center behind King High School in Tampa. They work out three times a week to prepare for tournaments.

For more information on the team, visit their Facebook page or contact head coach Wayne Bozeman at or (813) 892-0065.

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