It's been a long eight days but we will finish with tonight's awards banquet. This week has given us great competition and many memories. Thursday morning was the second and final day of the wheelchair field competitions and things ran smoothly. Walking though the venue, you could see lots of sleepy faces and people taking it easy. The night before were the first track events and many of the athletes had stayed out to cheer on their friends and teammates. Even though energy levels were lower, records were still being broken and many set their personal bests.
Thursday morning Amanda Merlau of the Rochester Rookies got her chance to shine while participating in shotput, discus and javelin. She was excited and placed first in each event for her classification. "I feel really good about how I threw." She has been at the NJDC all week and was doing an amazing job not only in field but in swimming and weightlifting, always placing first or second in her events. This was Amanda’s first time to Arizona she has really enjoyed being here, remarking "I really like coming to these competitions and seeing everybody with their different disabilities and getting to know them."
Every athlete I have talked to this week has inevitably said how much they love getting to know people from other teams and learning that there are others that share their challenges and passions. This competition has given many young athletes the chance to express themselves naturally in a world that is often quick to judge. The friends and memories created here will stay with these young people for the rest of their lives and hopefully always continue to push them to do their best. “I try to throw as hard as I can, and when it’s over I feel really proud of myself,” said Jayson Gorton. Jayson has been competing for over eight years and at only 13 years old this young athlete is setting records. Back in Minnesota Jayson get’s together every Wednesday and Saturday to practice with his team the Blizzards. “It’s fun hanging out with my friends and practicing to get better at what we do.” All that practice paid off when Jayson set a new record in Discus with a 8.57m throw.
Even after a long week and many events, the consensus among the competitors is that they would all keep going if they could. “I’m not ready to go home yet,” said Jayson, and George Anglin wished that it was still the middle of the week. Melanie Watson of team GLASA said, “It’s never any fun ending a vacation.” Melanie has had a long season competing in sports back at her high school in Wisconsin, then the NJDC, and now going back home to start Basketball next week. Melanie competed in the 100m, 200m, 800m track events, exclaiming “I’m excited, I did really well!” She loves competition and every month travels an hour and half across the Wisconsin/Illinois border to practice and compete with GLASA. “It has given me the chance to meet so many new people like me and to explore different parts of the country.”
Today everyone will be parting ways. Some will go home while others stay to explore the sights here in Arizona. Daniel Romanchuk and his family are taking the opportunity to head up to Sedona and the Grand Canyon before heading home. Daniel definitely deserves a break after taking part in all three days of track events and stunning the audience by taking first place in the 100m, 200m, 800m, 1500m, and 5000m. Also finishing first in all of her events was Taylor Morefield of Illinois, who raced in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and the 1500m. “It’s exciting but I’m ready to go home,” she said. “I can’t wait to take a shower and take a long nap!”
Like many of the athletes Taylor is sad to have to say goodbye to her friends at the banquet tonight, but all good things must come to an end. This week has been fun, challenging, hectic, and inspiring. Arizona Disabled Sports would like to thank all the families, coaches, local community members, officials, and almost 600 volunteers for their love and support. It is only because of their energy that an event like this is possible! Most of all, thank you to the 115 athletes from around the nation and world who showed us what it meant to really challenge ourselves and others. Congratulations, you are truly amazing people! You have shown me and many others the meaning of determination and I am proud to have meat all of you and call you friends. Good luck in all your endeavors though out the year and we will see you all at next year’s National Junior Disability Championships!