As a junior at Burnsville High School, Abby Bauleke already has some pretty impressive accomplishments under her belt. An honors student who serves on the student council and in the #BurnsvilleStrong leadership group, Bauleke is captain of the BHS swim team, plays wheelchair basketball in the NWBA and is the youngest member of the U.S. Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team, which won the gold medal at World Championships in Thailand in May.
But you would never know it, “because she won’t tell you,” said BHS social studies teacher Kevin Silberman. “She’s extremely humble about her achievements.”
The significant challenges Bauleke has overcome make her accomplishments even more impressive. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 4, she suffered an incredibly rare side effect of chemotherapy that left her paralyzed.
“I just woke up one morning and couldn’t walk anymore. The doctors had never seen it before,” she said.
Growing up in what she calls a “sports family,” Bauleke didn’t think basketball was an option for her. Then she attended a camp in Colorado designed to introduce sports to people with disabilities, where she learned that Minnesota has one of the best wheelchair basketball teams in the NWBA, the Rolling Timberwolves. She joined the youth team, the Rolling Rowdies, in sixth grade and moved on to the junior varsity team, the Rolling Gophers, in seventh grade.
“Ever since then I’ve loved it,” she said. “I have two older siblings and I grew up watching them play basketball and all my friends play basketball. So finally being able to play it for myself was so fun for me.”
For the past three years Bauleke has played for the Rolling Timberwolves and competed against teams in other states. Last December she was invited to try out for the U.S. Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball team and was the youngest person chosen to represent the country at the World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Thailand May 23-28.
“I was really shocked and excited. I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I never imagined when I was younger that I would ever play basketball, and I definitely never imagined it would be at this level.”
Bauleke said she loves to educate people about wheelchair basketball, which isn’t widely known about and is just as physical and competitive as standard basketball.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a really demanding sport,” Silberman said. “They’re really good athletes.”
Silberman said that while all students are unique, Bauleke stands out among the thousands of students he has taught. He describes her as hardworking, kind, bright and motivated, a star in not only athletics but academics and community. Even with all of the time and traveling demands of her sports and activities, Bauleke is a dedicated student who has maintained excellent grades, he said.
“She’s already been recruited by both Alabama and Illinois universities (for wheelchair basketball) and offered full scholarships. But she still works so hard in school – she’s basically in every honors class you can sign up for,” he said. “She remains academically focused, which I think is really impressive.”
A member of the homecoming court this year, she is also popular among her peers, he said.
“She has all sorts of friends. She’s just the nicest kid and always so positive,” he said.
Bauleke, who has also been swimming competitively since seventh grade and will serve as captain of the BHS swim team next season, said she intends to play basketball for as long as she can, and plans on attending one of the four universities in the U.S. that offer wheelchair basketball.
“But I also know there’s life outside of basketball, so I’m looking at being a child life specialist to help kids and families who are going through stuff similar to what I went through,” she said.
Bauleke credits the support of teachers and the BHS community as a crucial part of her success.
“All of my teachers are really good about helping me because I’m gone a lot. I never feel insanely overwhelmed because of their help,” she said. “Our family has been involved in various Burnsville programs for years because of my siblings, and for as much support as we give them, I feel like they really give that support back to me. It’s nice to have a community that’s so loving and supportive of everything.”