by Lisa Deaderick -
Ahkeel Whitehead noticed something different during a game of dodge ball in fifth grade. He tried to catch the ball before it could hit his left side, but his right arm reacted well before his left arm did.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen anyone else’s hand do that.’ And I just thought, ‘I need to try harder,’” he said.
His parents waited until he was preparing to enter high school before telling him that he had a mild form of cerebral palsy. It was tough for them not to tell him when he was younger because he did have challenges: when he’d run with other kids and fall down a lot, or try to open a jar or can with his left hand. Since his CP was mild, they wanted him to experience his childhood without knowledge of it – it was so mild that they didn’t want him to use it as an excuse – but they also wanted him to learn how to work through those physical challenges.
“It didn’t really bother me,” he said of the revelation. “My entire life up to that point, I had basically been living as regular as I could be… Once they told me, it kind of just went by me and I was like, ‘I’ve had this condition for a while’ and ‘Let’s get on with it.’”
Today, Ahkeel is 17 and a senior at Chula Vista High School. He’s been on the track team since his sophomore year, and is trying to work his way onto the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field national team for the Paralympic Games in Brazil in 2016. He tried to qualify for the team for the 2012 Paralympics in London, but didn’t make it. In his more immediate future is the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation World Junior Games in Puerto Rico in August, where he will compete in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races and the long jump, for which he was ranked eighth in the world last year in his classification category.
His best friend and former rival, Ray Holden, encouraged him to try track and field as a way to improve in football. Ahkeel wasn’t very good during that first year, he says, but the following year his track coach introduced him to one of the Paralympic coaches who presented him with the opportunity to compete internationally.
In middle school, Ahkeel just wanted to be better than Ray. If Ray was fast, he wanted to be faster. Ray got really good grades? Ahkeel was going to study hard and get good grades, too. They became friends and are both captains on the team. His long jump coach at school, Julian Mariscal, is also his personal coach for the games.
Read more at Cerebral Palsy Proves no Barrier to Olympic Dream.
[Via UT San Diego]