Covering High School Sports in America
Photo by Todd Shurtleff

Zach Pickett defied all odds by returning to the pool and water polo team after suffering a life-altering neck injury before his junior year. The Ponderosa senior won the National High School Spirit of the Sport Award by the NFHS.

Ponderosa (Shingle Springs, Calif.) senior Zach Pickett, believed to be the nation's only paraplegic water polo player, has been selected as the 2014 recipient of the National High School Spirit of Sport Award given by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

Pickett, the subject of the November Beyond the X feature, was on the fast track to a potential college swim and water polo career when he broke his seventh vertebra in a diving accident at a local lake just before his junior season.

Paralyzed from the neck down, the lean 6-foot-1 aquatics standout was hospitalized for the better part of three months, but eventually returned to school and remarkably swam in events by the spring.

See the November Beyond the X feature on Zach Pickett

More remarkable, he participated in water polo – a extremely physical sport driven by legs — and was the team's emotional and spiritual leader. He raised his grade point average from 3.95 with a 4.17 last semester.

Very low key about all the attention he's received, Pickett told us: "I didn't want to play to set some precedent. I just wanted to play because it's what I've always done. I wanted a sense of normalcy. And mostly I just wanted to be around my friends."

Said his father Tod Pickett: "With what he's done in the last 14 months, in my eyes, the sky's the limit. As long as he sees it and wants it and puts his mind to it, he can do anything."

Pickett was picked from a group of eight Spirit of Sport award winners selected in different regions of the county, and he will be honored at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Boston on June 29.

See NFHS release on Pickett's Spirit of Sport Award and other regional winners