North Dakota teen athlete sets records
CARPIO, N.D. (AP) — A 13-year-old Carpio youth is a national track-and-field champion after competing in the 35th annual Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in July.
Sam Winter finished first in eight events in his category, setting a record for discus and breaking the records for javelin and the 60-, 100- and 200-meter runs, the Minot Daily News reported. He fell a tenth of an inch short of tying the national record for long jump.
Dreaming of someday becoming a Para-Olympian for the USA team, Sam takes an avid interest in sports.
“I used to not — until I met sled hockey. That kind of changed,” he said.
His mother, Becca Winter, agreed Sam couldn’t care less about sports until a year ago when he discovered Prairie Grit Adaptive Sports in Minot. He joined the organization’s sled hockey program and has been trying other sports as the group expands into new areas.
“Sled hockey was like the door to sports that just opened a whole new world for him,” Winter said. “This really has given him a good physical outlet. It has helped him so much. He can be healthy and strong, and he can also work on things he needs to work on for his disability to help him do better.”
Not only has Prairie Grit helped him physically, but it’s motivated him in his school work and taught him about friendship and teamwork, she said.
This past year, Prairie Grit brought in a sled hockey Para-Olympian to inspire its local athletes.
“That really cinched it for him. He was all-in then,” Winter said of her son.
Dreams in Motion in Bismarck/Mandan invited Prairie Grit to partner with them to form a team to attend the USA Junior Nationals. Prairie Grit was asked to send athletes to the state’s first-ever qualifying event in Bismarck in June.
“I signed him up for just about everything available,” Winter said. Sam qualified in eight events — discus, long jump, javelin, shot put and the 60-, 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs. Of those who qualified, Sam and a Mandan youth, Jose Matthews, chose to travel to Indiana to compete. A certified coach with Dreams in Motion came to Minot occasionally to help Sam train during the month between the Bismarck competition and the national event held the week of July 21. The Junior Nationals drew 220 athletes ages 6 to 22 from 31 states in seven sports. There were 85 first-time competitors.
Performances by Sam and Jose ranked their two-member team third in the all-categories Small Teams division at nationals, earning them a trophy.
Junior Nationals uses the Para-Olympics system for placing individual contestants in competition categories based on age, diagnosis and physical ability testing. Sam had a stroke when he was born, which led to his cerebral palsy, epilepsy and learning delays.
“They told us he would never walk. So this is pretty fun to watch him running and everything,” Winter said. Kurt and Becca Winter and their family moved to North Dakota from Minnesota about four years ago.
Athletes participated in a variety of sports clinics at nationals, including some led by Para-Olympic athletes. Sam participated in a long jump clinic that helped improve his performance and also tried something new with goal ball, a game designed for the blind. Sighted people play with blindfolds. The game uses a 3-pound ball with a bell on a stringed court. The object is to get the ball through a goal.
“It’s very intense and competitive,” Winter said.
Sam said there was no particular highlight for him from the event because he enjoyed it all. The throwing events are his favorites, although he enjoys racing too.
“I used to love to run and still do — loved it since I was really little,” Sam said.
Most of his races at Junior Nationals were close as another talented young man near his age challenged him down to the finish line. That athlete from Minnesota was in a different competition category, although he was in the same heats as Sam. Sam edged him out in every race but the 400 meters.
Winter said it was inspirational to see the athletes perform. One girl without legs or arms ran with prosthetic limbs. Another athlete missing an arm and leg competed in the long jump without any prosthesis.
“They were all so amazing. They worked so hard,” Winter said.
She was impressed with the crowd support too. Among the biggest cheerleaders for the athletes was Sam’s 10-year-old brother, Matthew, who attended with Winter and her mother from Minnesota.
Sam said his experience at Junior Nationals opened his eyes to the sports options that are out there and the different types of disabilities that exist. Nicknamed “Superman Sam” for the Superman sports socks he wears, Sam also came away with a stronger sense of his own abilities.
“It made me more confident,” he said.
Drew Hanson, executive director for Prairie Grit, said he’s seen Sam’s athletic performance improve over the past year. He hopes Sam’s success at Junior Nationals will encourage more local athletes to participate in next year’s qualifier.
Sled hockey, which has been offered to children and adults in Minot since 2016, will kick off its new season around the end of September or early October. The USA sled hockey team will be coming in mid-October.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com