The incredible story of a wheelchair basketball star who nearly died in Venezuelan kidnapping attempt

Few college graduates this year have stories more inspiring than Orlando Carrillo Maffei. (Photo via

As legions of young adults walk across graduation stages around the country this month, some have stories that need to be heard. The case of University of Texas-Arlington grad Orlando Carrillo Maffei, as told by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is one of them.

Back in 2006, Maffei was a 22-year-old in Venezuela, a country marked by corrupt government, weak rule of law and economic turbulence. That combination created dangerous conditions for Maffei, the youngest son of the owner of a shipping company.

One evening, a kidnapper reportedly attempted to take Maffei by gunpoint. Maffei, a Taekwondo black belt, attempted to kick the gun from the kidnapper’s hand, but a bullet still managed to leave the gun and hit him in the spinal cord, leaving him a paraplegic. After years of treatment in the U.S., including one dark night in which he contemplated suicide, Maffei underwent a risky procedure that lowered his pain to manageable levels. An avid basketball player as a child, Maffei decided to give wheelchair basketball a try.

It took a while, but Maffei managed to practice and play his way onto the roster of the Miami Heat Wheels, where his story was told in the documentary “The Rebound,” then make the wheelchair basketball team at UT-Arlington.

“A lot of people get into sport as part of their therapy or rehab, but if they were athletes before, they find that competitive drive to get out there and be the best they can be,” said Garner, who has been with UTA since 2007.

While being a valuable contributor to the Movin’ Mavs, Maffei worked tirelessly to graduate with a bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2016 and a master’s in construction management this year at 34.

Venezuela’s economy has become even worse since Maffei was nearly kidnapped, with inflation out of control and citizens having to “loot to eat.” Per the Star-Telegram’s report, Maffei hopes his family back in his home country can survive and evade the danger still present in his home country. In fact, Maffei’s great hope is reportedly that his father can receive a green card so the pair can start their own construction company in the Dallas Fort-Worth area. Given what Maffei has already gone through, such an accomplishment could be well within reach.

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