I always had a strong desire to participate in sports growing up. I’m sure that everyone has dreams about being like their favorite athlete. I had dreams about this as well, but I mostly just wanted to be a part of a team. During my time at Wellsville High School, I was named Mr. W.H.S. because I was the biggest fan of our sports teams. At the beginning of my freshman year, the high school track coach Randy ‘Crash’ Thrasher asked me to be a part of his team.
The OHSAA had just approved wheelchair track events for people with disabilities. This was my first opportunity to get to compete in any kind of athletic contest for my school. The W.H.S Athletic Department believed in me and they wanted me to get a chance to be just like everyone else.
I decided that I was going to make the most of every experience. I became the first wheelchair track participant in Columbiana County. I also became the first wheeler ever to participate in four consecutive OHSAA state championship meets.
The thing is, track was never about winning state championships. I would rarely get to face other wheelers during regular season meets, so I would just try to beat my previous records. The wheelers that I competed with at the state level were amazing and supremely skilled. I came in last in nearly every race I competed in, but that didn’t bother me.
The true reward for me was getting to put on my orange & black uniform and compete. The support that I received was unbelievable. My mom and dad would tear up every time I went down the straightaway because people in the crowd would cheer as I finished my races. They didn’t care about whether I beat my records or not. Everyone was just happy that I was on the track competing. Student athletes from my team and other teams would both show their support for me. The fun times that I had during my track career were the best part of my high school career.
There were a lot of fun moments during practice as well. I would wheel on a roller and then I would practice shot put in my throwing chair. Two of my best friends, Eric Sullivan and Vinny Giordano, would give me pointers about shot put. Eric and Vinny were both accomplished football players in high school. Vinny had the opportunity to make it to the state championship in the discus competition. The trip to Columbus was three hours long so it definitely felt like the perfect final stop for our high school athletic careers.
My alma mater still has a great track and field program. This weekend a junior named Justin Wright will be competing in multiple events. Justin is a great kid to be around and he is a very hard worker. He puts in the work, day in and day out. This kid is a beast. Good luck Justin! The sky is the limit. No matter what the outcome you have already made Tiger Nation proud.
The state meet will be the final stop for all of the local seniors. I hope that all of them take it all in and smile at the scene of a jam packed Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
I know that I took it all in. Sometimes I wish that I could have one more race, one more time around the bend, one more time on the track.
Michael Reiner is a columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.