Public and Environmental Wellness

Championing Inclusivity

OU professor combines career interests and passion as wheelchair basketball staff for Team USA

Kate Rougeau pictured right in back row holding the flag, celebrating with Team USA’s U25 Wheelchair Basketball World Championship Team


icon of a calendarMay 1, 2024

icon of a pencilBy Jillian Wolf

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When Kate Rogueau, Ph.D. started coaching youth wheelchair basketball 17 years ago, she never imagined that it could take her to the world championships with the possibility of the Paralympics. But that’s exactly what happened.

Dr. Rougeau graduated from Oakland University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Wellness, Health Promotion, and Injury Prevention (WHP). She then proceeded to earn a master’s and Ph.D. degree in kinesiology. Now a coordinator and assistant professor of wellness and health promotion in OU’s School of Health Sciences, Dr. Rougeau’s research, teaching and passions overlap: educating people about diverse populations – including disability as a diversity class – and the psychophysiological benefits of physical activity for all. “I love sports and what it does for people,” she says passionately. “I want to help give that to others – especially a population that doesn't typically get to participate.”

After falling in love with adaptive sports as soon as she got involved, Dr. Rougeau officially joined the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) in 2009. After a couple of years coaching prep (age five to 13) and juniors (age 14 to 18), she pursued a graduate assistant position at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she helped coach the men's and women’s wheelchair basketball teams. She enjoyed it so much that, while continuing her education, she spent seven years (earning her Ph.D.) in what was originally planned as a two-year position. Dr. Rougeau continued to maintain her involvement in coaching within the NWBA over the years and was ultimately selected as Team Lead for the Women’s U25 Wheelchair Basketball World Championship team. 

As team lead, Dr. Rougeau was responsible for all of the details of the trip, from booking flights and places to stay, to meal planning and the logistics of international travel for a team of 18, most of whom are full-time wheelchair users. This was no small undertaking, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t exist internationally. While some countries were helpful, careful, and involved, travel for individuals with disabilities is unfortunately not always a positive experience. At one point, the athletes were refused their everyday, custom-built chairs at an airport and instead given the equivalent of hospital chairs, which can negatively impact an individual's mobility, independence, and safety. Dr. Rougeau explains, “Imagine somebody says, oh you don’t need your shoes – take the size 13, wear them for seven hours, and you’ll be fine. Well, you’re not going to be fine. We had to advocate for our athletes so they didn’t have to worry about that.”

With the support of Dr. Rougeau and other leaders, the team successfully made it to Thailand in good health. After navigating additional obstacles, including the collapse of the venue roof that thankfully didn’t injure anyone, the games began. It was a magical experience for Team USA, who dominated the competition. “Winning gold was the best part of the journey,” Dr. Rougeau says without hesitation. “And it was incredible to see the team make new connections and play with people they had never played with before. This group has the potential to be together until LA 2028, which would be incredibly powerful.” 

As for Dr. Rougeau, the ultimate goal is the LA 2028 Paralympic Games to accentuate the successes she is building in her teaching, research, and service work as a professor at OU. “I’m grateful that my passion and career can overlap, and that I can live my dream,” she says. “I see it as a way of serving my community and my country, and representing myself and something bigger than myself.”

Dr. Rougeau is thankful to her mentors, the Oakland community, and SHS faculty/staff for their support throughout her journey. 

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