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Nation’s only paraplegic water polo player is a true contributor

Prep Rally

It wasn't enough for Zach Pickett to overcome a spinal cord injury to return to the pool and compete in varsity water polo; the teen had to make an impact on the team while doing it.

As covered in this terrific feature from MaxPreps, Pickett has overcome a tragic fluke accident that left him paralyzed below the waist to emerge as a contributor to the Ponderosa High (Shingle Springs, Calif.) varsity water polo team. He competes while using only upper body strength because he can no longer use his legs following an accident that compressed his seventh vertebrae into his spinal column when he dove into a lake while at his summer job as a lifeguard.

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Zach Pickett has overcome paralysis below the waist to compete in water polo — ThePickettFence.org

Zach Pickett has overcome paralysis below the waist to compete in water polo — ThePickettFence.org

Incredibly, Pickett has developed a system to keep afloat and move smoothly down the pool without using his legs, all while his teammates and foes can take care of the classic kick thrust referred to in the sport's lexicon as "egg-beating."

"We'll be at the pool at practice and Zach just rolls up in his wheelchair," Ponderosa water polo star Hayden Cooksy told MaxPreps. "He climbs out and sits down and just starts going. Talk about upper body strength? It's mind-blowing."

The most difficult part of Pickett's adjustment may be the mental struggle of transitioning from being among the team's leading scorers to an impact sub. The junior -- who also serves as his class' president at Ponderosa High -- scored as many as 20 goals in 2012 in a breakout sophomore campaign that marked the 6-foot-1 speedster as a top prospect to watch. This year he has scored just two goals, though he has taken part in roughly half of Ponderosa's games.

Now he's worth watching just to see how he adapts, even if his opponents often can't even tell that he isn't competing with full leg strength.

"I've seen kids go, ‘Wait, you're in a wheelchair?'" Ponderosa water polo coach Matt Jaehn told MaxPreps of opponents when they see Pickett exit the pool. "They'll be, ‘Sorry man, I didn't mean to. …'"

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Cameron Smith is the editor of Prep Rally on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at preprallyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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