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Scene — Para-Troopers 

click to enlarge FROM RIGHT: Amberlynn Weber, Bob Hunt, Isaiah Rigo, Kristin Messer and Austin Pruitt - STEPHEN SCHLANGE
  • Stephen Schlange
  • FROM RIGHT: Amberlynn Weber, Bob Hunt, Isaiah Rigo, Kristin Messer and Austin Pruitt
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning at the track behind West Valley High School as the wheelchair racers line up. Their coach, on a bicycle, gives a shout and they’re off, arms punching downward into the wheels, rapidly propelling them forward.

They are out here training six days a week in preparation of the London Olympics in a couple of weeks. As soon as the Summer Olympics conclude, the Paralympics commence. Three local competitors will stay in the Olympic village and compete at the Olympic track.

Amberlynn Weber’s written on one side of her wheelchair: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,” a famous quote from former University of Oregon star runner Steve Prefontaine. And on the other side she has a list of places she’s competed — Canada, Australia, South Korea, Switzerland.

But this, for Weber, Austin Pruitt and Kristen Messer will mark their first Olympic competition.

“It’s exciting. Nerve-wracking. Nauseating. All of the above,” Weber says. She’s 18, and Pruitt is only 17. Messer – who tried out for the Paralympic team four years ago and missed by mere seconds - is the veteran of the group at 25.

“It kind of fueled my fire to train a little bit harder,” Messer says.

Pruitt and Weber both have cerebral palsy — though Weber’s arms spasm more as she pumps her wheels. Athletes are separated into races by condition, and further separated by severity of condition.

The sport brings unique complications. Today, Pruitt practices with a specialized plastic glove that half-melted after he left it in the sun. Another athlete training with them sits on a blanket on the track, repairing a tire on his chair that came loose. Black duck-tape covers the brand names on Messer’s wheelchair, a requirement for many official competitions.

Coach Teresa Skinner of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, one of the two U.S. Paralympic coaches, keeps a close eye on her watch, counting down the time between intervals.

“Alright, on your mark. Set. Go,” she yells. And they’re speeding down the track again, racing toward London.


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