Mary Saxer is a professional pole vaulter from Buffalo, New York. In her early years she was a gymnast, which transformed into an interest in track and field. At Lancaster High School in Lancaster, New York she was the first … Continue reading
West Plains High School Men’s track and field team isn’t your average track squad.The team consists of 18 graduating seniors, 8 of which accepted track and field scholarships. The men have won 3 consecutive Ozark Championship titles, it’s no wonder the team’s motto is, “Take care of business.” This year at their district meet, the guys were down by 1 point going into the 4X4. A home stretch win helped them to secure the district championship and advance to the Missouri state meet.The men from West Plains placed 2nd as a team in Class 4 in the MSHSAA State Track Meet. When asked about this season, athlete Nghia Dinh responded, “We had a heck of a season!” In conclusion the men finished up as Ozark Conference Champions, District Champions, Sectional Champions, and had an amazing second place finish at the Missouri State Meet. Not only were they successful on the track, but they were also owning it in the classroom. West Plains Men’s Track and Field team have a team GPA of 3.7!
It was just another #TrackFaceTuesday when this tweet came along
I clicked on Jenna’s twitter handle to make sure this picture was of the author of the tweet before I retweeted it. The picture sparked my curiosity, and the next thing I did was turn to Google. Numerous articles popped up about Jenna Fesemyer so I proceeded to read a couple of the articles before I got in touch with her myself. Instead of recapping what I read (and didn’t read—there were PLENTY of articles on Jenna’s incredible story), I decided to get Jenna’s take first hand.
Jenna was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD). PFFD is a non-hereditary birth deficiency that varies among those who are born with it. In Jenna’s case, she was born with a shortened leg and without a hip joint. Not only was Jenna born with PFFD, but she also came into this world with a brother and a sister—she is a triplet! Jenna told me that growing up a triplet has been a lot of fun; she said, “My siblings have always been so supportive of me and everything I aspire to do! My brother, Jonathan, often acts as my sprint coach on the track. My sister is very good for moral support.” Just when you think the family connection couldn’t get any stronger, Jenna’s mom is the high school track coach and was Jenna’s gym teacher in elementary school—who Jenna says treated her just like everyone else. Jenna said her dreams also would not have been possible without her dad helping her overcome obstacles and motivate her to reach her goals. Growing up with such strong family roots, Jenna was taught that the word “can’t” was simply not allowed. “Not being able to do something is because you don’t put your mind to it,” Jenna said.
In the midst of my communication with Jenna, the only time she even mentioned PFFD was when she told me what it was and that she was born with it. The rest of my conversation with her was upbeat, encouraging, and truly amazing.
Jenna’s life completely changed in 2012. This was her first year in high school and competing on the varsity team in discus. In 2012, Ohio decided to have a meeting to add adaptive sports to the state track meet. Jenna was the pioneer to try to push this program forward for not only herself, but also all the other athletes with inconveniences across the state. 2013 marked the year of change. That was the year the first Ohio state track meet with wheelchair events was embedded into the high school track and field realm. Specific events were the 100m, 400m, 800m, and seated shot-put. Jenna competed with (not against) the men, not to mention she beat several of them, and set records that she still currently holds in the state of Ohio. In 2014, four other girls joined Jenna at the state competition where she defended all of her titles. In July Jenna went to the National Junior Disability Championships in Ames, Iowa. There she won the wheelchair racing events in the 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m. Not only did she dominate the racing events, she also made her mark in the field events. Jenna set the national record for the seated discus, placed second in the shot-put, and third in the Javelin!
Two weeks ago in early September, Jenna was rightfully announced an All-American in the 800m, seated shot-put, seated discus, and seated javelin. Along with that, she was named the Female Field Athlete of the Year. She recently was invited by the U.S. Paralympic team to train in Chula Vista, California for a throwing camp. In response to her time in California she said, “It was the best experience of my life. Going to this camp meant that I possibly have the potential to make it on Team USA for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Along this whole journey, I have met some wonderful people. Those four girls I competed against at State were the most genuine and awe-inspiring girls. My family has really helped me with training and taking me to compete. I honestly can’t believe this is my life, I never dreamed of this!”
Jenna is currently a senior at Southeast High School. Not only is she a star on the track, but she is also the senior class president and she is a four year letterman for the golf team where she was named All-League this season. Jenna is looking to attend Penn State next year to study either Sports Administration or Nutrition with a minor in Spanish. Her ultimate goal is to join Team USA. When I asked her what her biggest challenge has been in her big pursuit, she said, “Balancing school and sports. Athletics is nothing without a good education to accommodate it.”
I hope the next time you are on the track or in the classroom and you say “I can’t,” you think of Jenna. Set your mind to it, work for it, and go get it. No excuses.
Biggest #TrackProb – “Forgetting my running leg for practice!”
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Maya Angelou said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Rise above it. Those three words have defined Andy White’s track and field career. Andy will be a senior track and field athlete this coming fall at the University of British Columbia. The opportunity to compete collegiality at UBC and the fact that both of his parents attended the university all played a part in his decision to be a Thunderbird.
Track and field was never a foreign subject to Andy, as his mother was also a track and field athlete at UBC. “What brought me to track and field was ultimately my mom’s passion for the sport.” Secondly, a trip to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 sealed the deal for Andy. “I’m pretty sure this is where I caught the Olympic Bug. This is where I first discovered javelin. I remember hearing the throwers yell when they threw and I was sitting on the opposite part of the stadium from where they were throwing. It was so cool!”
In high school Andy competed in cross country, track and field, wrestling, rugby, and mountain bike racing. As a high school track and field athlete he competed in a variety of events such as the 100m dash, the 200m dash, the long jump, and the javelin. “I loved to do different events, and I think that also attracted me to the sport.” Despite Andy’s versatility, when he arrived at UBC he had to make a decision between long jump and javelin. “I picked the event that was most fun, javelin.”
Right before Andy began his career as a varsity athlete at the collegiate level, tragedy struck. He lost his mother, Linda, to breast cancer on January 14, 2010. “At this point in my life I truly felt that I was alone, and at times it really seemed pointless doing anything if my mom wasn’t going to be around.” With much love and support from his family and friends, Andy was able to muster up the strength to rise above adversity. “I did what my mom would want for me and has always wanted for me, I followed my dreams.” That year Andy was not only nominated for Rookie of the Year at UBC, but he also finished 4th at the NAIA Championships. “I got to see that with honoring her wish for me, I would be honoring her and the loving person she was for people.”
Since 2010, Andy has made two additional trips (2011, 2013) to the NAIA championships. Unfortunately, due to yet another roadblock, those were not consecutive trips. In 2012, Andy encountered multiple ankle sprains that eventually turned into an unpleasant bone spur–an injury that required surgery to repair. Because he did not want to lose an entire year of competition to injury, he decided to red shirt. “It was definitely hard to stay away from competing, especially during a time when my training partner Curtis Moss was qualifying to compete for Canada in the Olympics.” Fortunately, Andy was able to make the best out of a less than fortunate situation. With a huge passion for photography and as a Visual Arts student at UBC, Andy was able to channel negative energy into something amazing during his red shirt season. He attended all of his team’s track meets that season and gained a new perspective on the incredible sport of track and field. He has since helped organize an annual photography show, The PRINTS Show, to raise money for an alternative cancer care organization–InspireHealth. So far he and his colleagues have raised over $6,000 in under two years. Another situation in Andy’s life where he could have given up, he again decided to rise above it.
2013 has proven to be one of Andy’s most successful track seasons so far. He received the NAIA Champions of Character Award and was ranked first going into the NAIA Championships. There he was the front runner during finals with a throw of 65.59m until his competition tossed his last javelin a little over one meter further. Although he didn’t finish with the gold, he still took an honorable silver and is more hungry than ever for his senior season. Andy competed in the Canadian Track & Field Championships in June 2013 where he threw a new personal best of 69.77m, placing 5th. Because Andy threw over the qualifying standard of 69m, he is hoping to make the Canadian team for the Francophone Games in Nice, France this September. One of Andy’s biggest dreams is to represent Canada in the Olympics. With a heart as big as his talent and his extraordinary ability to rise above whatever obstacle is in way, Andy White is most certainly on the road to success. In the mean time Andy will continue to train, study, and support his community. No doubt Andy’s mom is watching him, proud that her son is following his dreams.
Biggest #TrackProb: When people ask me, “What sport do you play?” My response, “I play javelin.”
Follow Andy White and his journey @iPlayJavelin
Are you a student athlete who has overcome roadblocks in your career that have made you stronger? Do you know an athlete who has persevered and come out a better individual? If you would like to apply for the August TrackProbs Student Athlete of the Month or nominate someone, fill out the following form. Make sure to leave a current email address and factual information (with sources that can be verified) about the athlete being nominated in the comment box. The student athlete must be in good academic AND athletic standing, be sure to provide information that confirms this.