HEALDSBURG, Calif. (KTVU) - Standing on the gymnasium floor at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Healdsburg, a Harlem Globetrotter transfers a spinning basketball to the index finger of a 10-year-old double amputee who recently lost her prosthetic legs when her family's home was devastated by the North Bay wildfires.
Globetrotter Zeus McClurkin recently visited Lilly Biagini and her classmates to recognize her courage, but also to show them some of the wildly famous moves and tricks. During the display, McClurkin asked multiple students -- each impacted by the fires -- to give him a hand.
“I just wanted to do something a little extra special,” said McClurkin. “I call them ‘Fighting Tigers’ – these kids are some fighters.”
Lilly has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition where her joints won't bend from the waist down.
At the age of six she decided to have both legs amputated, wear a prosthesis and be active, rather than keep her legs and be wheelchair bound. Her legs are part of her identity. She runs and rides horses. She even has a doll with prosthetic legs. Without them, she was a little lost.
That is until Hanger Clinic San Francisco stepped in and made her a new pair of legs for free.
Together McClurkin and Lilly put on a show that brought students to their feet as cheers echoed throughout the gym. But leaving a lasting impression isn’t new for Lilly.
“I remember the moment I saw her (Lilly) – I knew this person was someone special,” said James Brandt, Principal at St. John the Baptist school. “She is such a wonderful, beautiful little girl.”
Lilly’s mom, Jessica Biagini, recalls viewing the fast-moving flames during the early stages of the wildfire devastation. She and Lilly sat in back of their car, praying. “If we don’t end up getting through this, we’ll hold hands throughout it like we always do,” Biagini said. “But we had faith and we got through it.”
They got through it, but not without suffering damage that requires a long reconstruction process. And despite the displacement, the Biagini’s remain positive and hopeful. They’re just “rebuilding Humpty Dumpty,” as Lilly puts it. But when tragedy strikes those who have already experienced personal struggle, a deep level of empathy often registers with spectators.
“Life throws curve-balls at all of us and sometimes you think: a family like hers, there’s no way, she’s been through so much, ‘why Lilly?’” Brandt said. “But Lilly is resilient, she’s a powerful little girl.”
Powerful and the owner of a new lifelong memory. And the gift extends beyond McClurkin’s visit to the school. Lilly celebrated a birthday earlier this month and, for it, McClurkin gave her an official Globetrotter jersey with the number one and "Ace" on the back.
Additionally, Lilly and Jessica Biagini will join the Globetrotters on the bench when the team takes the index-finger-spin to the next level in front of large crowd at Oracle Arena on Jan. 13.