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McKinley Penninga’s story of perseverance

One door closes another one opens
Lindsay Thurber Raiders McKinley Penninga scores against the Notre Dame Cougars during the 4A central zone basketball championship. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

McKinley Penninga’s story is like something straight out of a movie.

The 17-year-old athlete from Red Deer has overcome numerous health-related obstacles and has developed into one of Central Alberta’s top high school basketball players, despite those challenges.

Penninga suffers from multiple health conditions, one of which is a type of arthritis that affects her tendons. Since she was diagnosed nearly a decade ago she’s been able to manage it through medication to the point she can still perform at a high level.

“It’s allowed me to continue to do what I want to do,” Penninga said.

Throughout her journey as a young girl, she was in and out of wheelchairs and crutches until her doctors were able to get it under control. Now she stands as a confident young woman who’s overcome more than most athletes endure in their athletic careers.

Her mother Lisa said McKinley has excelled athletically because the management of her conditions has allowed her to push her body further than before.

“My husband and I are incredibly proud of the way she’s persevered and we’re also very grateful for all of her medical teams,” she said.

This year Penninga helped the Lindsay Thurber Raiders senior girls’ basketball team to a 4A girls’ zone championship and finished seventh at the Alberta Schools Athletic Association provincial championships.

During the regular season, the Raiders were ranked sixth in the province for the first time in many years. This and more created a memorable year for the girls.

“It was a very special season,” Penninga said. “The group of girls that I played with we had such great team chemistry and all worked together. We all just looked out for each other and played as a team. Everyone just loved each other.”

Her play this past season most recently earned her the Alberta Sport Development Centre Central Athlete of the Month honours for the month of April. This is the first time the organization has selected an athlete of the month since before the pandemic.

“It means a lot to me especially knowing where I’ve come from. It’s definitely an honour to get recognition for being where I am athletically,” she said.

When the high school season is done Penninga plays club basketball with the Calgary Basketball Academy’s U18 travel team. In 2022, they won the Basketball Alberta U18 Provincials.

The season starts in the first week of April and will go through to November.

“This year we have another great team and we’re traveling to a couple of tournaments… Playing some other club teams across western Canada,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be a part of that team.”

McKinley, who plays forward, also made it onto the Canletes Top 50 Futures List and was invited to the 2023 All-Canadian All-Star Game in Toronto earlier this month but was unable to play due to prior commitments. Penninga was thankful but surprised to make the list.

Her dad played basketball at Trinity Western University and Penninga eventually wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, her first love was soccer but in Grade 7 she started to really love basketball. She also played volleyball but in her Grade 11 season this year, she retired from the game to focus on basketball.

In her free time, she works part-time as a student medical assistant and volunteers her time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital’s Child and Youth Advisory Council.

Penninga not only has dreams to play university basketball but to also get her degree in kinesiology and work in health care.

“I just love being able to be with my teammates and cheer them on. I just really love the team aspect of it.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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