The low-key, soft-spoken Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage that Consuelo and Eric Lowe know and love?
That wasn’t who showed up at their doorstep the first time they met their new neighbors 15 years ago — when a bold, confident 9-year-old introduced herself in 2006.
The daughter of Roddy Cabbage and Emma Lozada, both of whom are deaf and work at New Mexico School for the Deaf, had a way with words.
“She knocked on the door and said, ‘Hi, name is Sabrina, and this is my brother Bailey,’ ” Consuelo Lowe remembered. “ ‘My mom is deaf, my dad is deaf and my dog is deaf.’ And she just walked in and sat on our couch. She sat there for like two hours, and I said to my husband, ‘Do their parents know where they’re at? Are they going to go home?’ ”
Eventually, the siblings left for home, but the impression they made that day — as well as the ensuing friendship — lingers still.
The Lowes watched and cheered on Lozada-Cabbage, who can hear, as she became a 6-foot-2 force on the basketball court for Santa Fe High from 2011-15, leading the Demonettes to a Class 4A title in 2014 and earning a first-team All-State honor to boot. They saw her parlay high school success into an athletic scholarship with the Wichita State University women’s basketball program, then a professional stint in Portugal in 2019.
As the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin Friday, the couple can say they are friends of an Olympian, as Lozada-Cabbage is a member of the Puerto Rico women’s national basketball team. She is one of two Santa Fe residents competing in the Olympics, along with Ali Tuliamuk, who will compete for the U.S. in the women’s marathon.
Lozada-Cabbage, 24, said it is a dream come true to be in the Olympics, even if it isn’t for the U.S. squad. She is eligible to compete for Puerto Rico because her grandmother lives there, Lozada-Cabbage’s mother said.
“It wasn’t really something I thought would happen until the opportunity came to play with Puerto Rico,” Lozada-Cabbage said. “This is amazing because it’s every athlete’s dream. And not just basketball, but any other sport. The Olympics are the biggest stage in the world.”
If anyone can appreciate Lozada-Cabbage living her dream, it is her father. Cabbage, who is the director of student affairs at NMSD, was a part of the bronze-medal U.S. handball team that went to the 1989 Deaflympics in Christchurch, New Zealand — an experience he savored. When Lozada-Cabbage talked about dealing with jet lag after an 18-hour flight last week from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Tokyo or the amount of work she put in to prepare herself for this opportunity over the past year, her dad could empathize.
“I understand the commitment, the practice, the dedication that it takes to be an Olympic-grade athlete,” Cabbage said through an interpreter in a phone interview. “And I understand the time changes with your body, having to get used to that while you’re still practicing and interacting with all kinds of people all over the world.”
Lozada-Cabbage’s dream began in Twin Falls, Idaho, where she was born and raised until her parents moved to Santa Fe. She was a regular in youth leagues, and Lowe remembered male players often asked if Lozada-Cabbage could stay and play on their teams.
A varsity starter as a freshman, Lozada-Cabbage helped the Demonettes reach the Class 4A semifinals as a sophomore and win a state title a year later. By that time, she had caught the attention of several NCAA Division I schools, and she committed to play at Wichita State. She became a steady, reliable post player for the Shockers, and she was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer by her senior year.
She showed enough development for Portugal’s Vitória Sport Clube to sign her to a pro contract in the summer of 2019. The signing proved to be worthwhile, as Lozada-Cabbage led the team in scoring while also competing for Puerto Rico’s national team. If not for an ankle injury suffered in January 2020, she would have played when Puerto Rico qualified for the Olympic Games the following month — a first for the island, which is a U.S. territory but competes in the Olympics as its own nation.
Lozada hinted fate must have played a role in her daughter’s quick rise to achieve her dream.
“When I look back at the state championship at Santa Fe High School, I always knew then that was her dream — to go to Tokyo,” Lozada said through an interpreter. “I am so excited and so happy for her.”
But who knew that her Olympic dreams would be threatened by the coronavirus pandemic? Lozada-Cabbage returned to Santa Fe prior to the crisis hitting the state, but the state’s health restrictions on gyms made it difficult for her to stay in shape and keep her basketball skills sharp.
“For a while, I did lose motivation just because it was really hard to just get into a gym to workout or to shoot the ball,” Lozada-Cabbage said. “I did lose my motivation there for a little bit, but then I kind of had to realize that.”
The way back started with running three miles roundtrip from her apartment to her parents’ house. When gyms began to slowly open up, Lozada-Cabbage worked with a personal trainer for strength training and conditioning. She and her dad also reserved one-hour time slots at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center so she could work on her shooting stroke.
“It was not easy,” Cabbage said. “We wanted to find the right people working with her to make sure to keep her in shape. But she did a lot of hiking and a lot of intensive workouts.”
By the time she left for Puerto Rico’s Olympic team tryouts in April, Lozada-Cabbage felt like she was almost in shape. She was an early attendee at the team’s training facility, and that helped her make up for lost time. Still, she was among 20 participants at the tryouts, and every week was filled with tension to see who would make the team. It wasn’t until May that Lozada-Cabbage secured her spot.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get cut or if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” Lozada-Cabbage said. “You don’t know if they’re liking what they’re seeing, so it was kind of a long two couple of months. But I’m happy now because I’m on the official roster.”
The reward was seeing her immediate family travel to San Juan to watch her play during the AmeriCup Tournament in June that was a tuneup for the Tokyo Games. Lozada-Cabbage’s grandmother and a host of other family members who live on the island added to a nice-sized cheering section that could be heard occasionally during games.
Lozada said only people who had their vaccination cards and an ID were able to attend the games, which limited the number of family members in attendance. Her daughter was quarantined in a “bubble” with her teammates during the tournament, so the family’s interactions were limited to phone calls until after the tournament ended June 19.
It made for a touching reunion, especially after Puerto Rico reached the championship game, where it lost to the U.S.
Lozada-Cabbage scored a basket and blocked a pair of shots in seven minutes of action against the Americans, considered the favorites to win the gold medal.
“I wanted [to touch] my girl so badly,” Lozada said. “Oh my gosh, I wanted to hug her. She’s my daughter, and I’m so excited and proud of her. But we had to respect the rules, of course.”
Cabbage said the family considered following Lozada-Cabbage to Tokyo, but the pandemic put a halt to the idea, especially when Olympic officials announced in June no international fans would be allowed at any event.
Lozada-Cabbage and the rest of the athletes will be restricted to the bubble of the Olympic Village. She said each player has their own room at the hotel they are staying in until they can check into the village Wednesday. They are accompanied by security guards and other personnel when they travel to and from practice.
“We have pathways we have to follow, and we go through a different part of the hotel away from the lobby when we leave and come back,” Lozada-Cabbage said. “Definitely a different experience, but with COVID, I understand the restrictions.”
Lozada-Cabbage said she hopes to continue playing for Puerto Rico in the future, but she is uncertain about her future plans. It’s something she will assess once she is done with the Tokyo Games.
For the meantime, her family is content to watch games online with friends at home — even if it means getting up early in the morning. Puerto Rico’s first game, against China, is set for 6 a.m. MDT July 27, so Cabbage said the party spread will be more breakfast burritos than beers and burgers.
“We will definitely have a little bit of a different party in the morning than we would in the evening,” Cabbage said.
The Lowes will likely be there, too. This time, they’ll be the guests parked on couch for a couple of hours.