Last week, Adaptive Sports USA announced the team selected to represent the United States at the Prague hosted 2016 IWAS Under 23 World Games. The seven athlete strong team includes Stella McMillan from Chicago, Ethan Burkhart from Libertyville, Illinois, Brian Nelson from Lake Villa, Illinois, Abby Farrell from Colorado Springs, Daniel Velasquez from San Antonio, Katrina Gerhard from Acton, Massachusetts, and Miguel Jimenez-Vergara from Ewing, New Jersey.
McMillan is a high school senior at John F. Kennedy High School, and is one of number of high school athletes who has pushed the Illinois High School Association to expand the number of opportunities for students to participate in high school adaptive sport in the state. Outside of track and field where McMillan competes in shot put, discus, and 100-, 200- and 800-meter races, she has participated in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair softball for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Park District respectively.
Burkhart, who has spina bifida, is a two sport athlete, competing in sledge hockey, and track and field. Affiliated with GLASA, he has competed at the US nationals in track and field His long-term goal with sport is to represent the United States at the Paralympic Games. In May 2015, he finished second in the Arlington Heights hosted Got Freedom 5k Race, finishing in a time of 16:47.5. In 2013, the then 12-year-old participated in a Gateway to Gold talent identification event at Lake Forest High School. Swimming has been key for him in keeping muscle function.
Nelson, who has cerebral palsy, is a track and field competitor. He took up sport in 2012 after watching Michael Phelp’s performance at the Olympics on television. It inspired him to try to qualify for the Paralympics. In 2014, as a 16-year-old, Nelson competed in the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games. In May 2015, he finished first in the Arlington Heights hosted Got Freedom 5k Race, finishing in a time of 15:44.0.
Farrell, who has spina bifida, is a junior at Air Academy and competes in track and field events, wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing. Her mother is Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, a member of the United States 1984 Summer Olympics gymnastics team. Since being born in Pasadena, California, Farrell has had over 20 surgeries. She has competed at and won at US national championships in mono-skiing where she was one of the few skiers in her division. While not being a starter and being one of the youngest members of the team, she has won a national championship in the National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball. As a youngster, she also tried sledge hockey. Track and field is one of the areas where she has found the most success because of more depth of competition. She has set qualifying times for the U.S. Paralympic National Championships. In 2014, she competed at the 2014 National Junior Disability Championships, winning the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 800 meters events while setting a national record in the 800 meters.
20-year-old Velasquez, who has cerebral palsy, is a student-athlete at University of Texas at Arlington. He started competing in adaptive sports when he was 10-years-old through programs run by Kinetic Kids, a San Antonio non-profit that assists children with disabilities. He tried several sports including athletics, football and basketball. While he had an invite to the U.S. Paralympic soccer team when he was younger, his fitness level was not high enough to get a call back. Realizing the need to take sport more seriously, he decided to focus on athletics. He got his first real taste for national competition in 2006 when he participated in the UCO Paralympic Endeavor Games. Since then, he has gone on to set a national record T35 Long Jump and to set multiple U18 national age records. In 2013, he was one of fifty-five high school sportspeople nation wide to be named a Paralympic All-American by the US Olympic Committee. At the 2014 US National Championships, he won gold in the shot put, and bronze in the 100 meters.
Gerhard attended Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, and is currently a student athlete at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2011, the then 14-year-old had a bad fall while participating in training with her dance team, the Pocket Flyers. The fall and resulting complications left her with a disability involving less motor function in her legs. After a year in France doing an exchange program, Gerhard returned home a sophomore and went out for track and field after goading from her friends as the sport was a no-cut one at her high school. Massachusetts Track Coaches Association assisted in financing the costs to get her a racing wheelchair. She participated alongside everyone else on her team, including doing hills on an older, heavier racing wheelchair. In 2014, she competed at the National Junior Disability Championships in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters, and 5,000 meters, shot put, javelin, discus, and pentathlon where she picked up 10 gold medals. In 2014, she finished second at the Falmouth Road Race behind US legend Tatyana McFadden. She won the 2015 Boston Half-Marathon.
Jimenez-Vergara is a sophmore at Notre Dame High School. He will be making his second appearance at the IWAS Under 23 World Games, having competed at the 2015 edition in the Netherlands. Originally from Colombia, he was adopted and brought to the United States when he was 3-years-old. Born legless and having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, he currently holds several national age records in track, swimming and archery. He has participated in a track and field camp at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that put him in contact with some of the United States’ most celebrated track and field competitors. In 2015, he was selected as one of the country’s U.S. Paralympics Track and Field High School All-Americans.