Adaptive athletes compete at U.P. Track and Field Finals, spreading awareness about new competitive division

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) – U.P. Finals for were held Saturday at Kingsford High School. Athletes from all over the U.P. competed in Divisions I, II and III. However, a new division also took place, the Adaptive Division- a division designed to not simply participate in track & field, but score points for their team, earn a varsity letter and progress to state finals just like all other athletes on their team.

Johnny Osborn from Sault Ste. Marie and Jim Bennett from Marquette took to the competing in the 100m, , 400m and shot put for their respective schools.

Osborn and Bennett spoke on how they enjoy competing, but their hope is to bring more athletes into the program and help high schools grow their programs even further.

“I’m really happy that we are able to do this because I know you only see us right now, but I bet there is a bunch of kids at home that are really looking forward to doing this and we want to make sure to help grow their high school programs so we can keep this going,” said Osborn. “I can’t wait to see more kids grow up and do this because it will be even more fun than with just with Jimmy and I.”

“I’m super glad to have had that opportunity to compete at that high level and hopefully in the next few years, we get enough people to have a full heat,” said Bennett.

The MHSAA created a pilot program two years ago. The struggle is now keeping the program permanent. The I Am An Athlete, Too movement also started two years ago when track athlete Maria Velat suffered an injury and became a wheelchair racer. However, Velat couldn’t compete in the finals because there was no division. Two years of lobbying later and a division was created. Monica Aho, Valet’s physical therapist and advocate for the I Am An Athlete, Too movement, said the fight is still on trying to get the program to stay.

“We’re still lobbying the MHSAA,” said Aho. “They created the two-year pilot program and now we’re trying to get that pilot program permanent and to include an ambulatory category to allow these athletes to score points for their team and to participate in any event that standing runners are.”

Parents of these athletes say it helps in more ways than one.

“It allows my son to feel like he is truly part of that team,” said Andrea Osborn, parent and supporter of the I Am An Athlete, Too movement. “He’s not going to go out and race an able-bodied traditional athlete and be competitive, but to allow him to have an equal playing field with his peers and to grow that confidence and know that he is not just their putting the time in in at practice, but he is truly a member of the team.”

The U.P. season may have wrapped up for the year, but the fight for adaptive athletes to be fully included in the sport has just begun.

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