STORY BY EMILY LAMBIE
The Drake Relays is an event that brings together some of the best athletes from all over the country, and the world, for a chance to compete against one another. This year, the Drake Relays will be hosting a new event, one that has never been held at the Relays before.
A Paralympic 200-meter race will be held at Relays for the first time on Friday, April 24 at Drake Stadium.
The new event is a change for the Drake Relays, a race that is far different from the other competitions. Not to mention the talent that will be displayed in the event.
“It’s hard enough for just the elite athletes to get into events now,” Track and Field head coach Natasha Brown said. “But now, also with the Paralympics, you’re going to have less opportunities as well, so the fact that we can actually provide that on our setting, on our stage, that’s fantastic.”
One of those athletes is David Brown, a 100, 200 and 400-meter sprinter. He placed 2nd in the 400m and 4×100 relay at the Athletics World Championships in 2013. He also competed in the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field trials in 2012 and received gold in the 100-meter and 200-meter competitions. David Brown was also the first T11 athlete to finish the 100-meter sprint in less than 11 seconds.
The T11 classification represents visually impaired athletes.
David Brown’s family has been supportive as he has dealt with his affliction, even as his vision has deteriorated over the years.
“I was raised up in an athletic based family, pretty much basketball was the sport that my family does,” David Brown said. “When my vision started going down south when I was six years old I couldn’t really play basketball anymore. My mom signed me up for this thing called the Trolley Run in Kansas City, Missouri. I found out I had some speed there, so I continued to compete against my friends.”
His vision continued to worsen through his childhood until he was 13, at which point he could barely see anything, and that has not changed since.
This was the result of a disease that David Brown was diagnosed with when he was just 15 months old, which led to him developing glaucoma. His vision’s deterioration soon followed.
When he was 16 years old David Brown joined the Paralympic circuit in 2008, the start of his professional career.
David Brown’s mother was a main influence on him, pushing the young man to stay active. She didn’t want his disability to get the best of him.
In order for visually impaired runners to compete they will be literally tethered to a guide with whom they run stride-for-stride.
“A lot of things did have to get modified, and that takes time and just figuring out different things that work for me,” David Brown said. “I think I’ve found a pretty good way and a pretty good method that works for me, in order to run good and run fast in order to be competitive.”
As David Brown heads into Relays, his mindset remains unchanged when it comes down to training for the event.
“Get ready, get the mindset and go out there and do what I need to do, and run fast,” David Brown said.
David Brown will be the only T11 runner in the Relays this year, facing off with other paralympian athletes.
As far as being a visually impaired athlete, David Brown has had to make adjustments to the way he competes, even if he doesn’t view his training as much more of a challenge.
“I don’t really call them difficulties. There are things I have to deal with differently than an average athlete, but I don’t look at myself as any different. There’s just things that I have to do differently,”
David Brown said. “When it comes to my coach, he doesn’t treat me like a visually impaired athlete. He treats me as just a regular athlete. … I can do anything an ‘able-bodied athlete’ can do.”
Marko Cheseto, a native Kenyan, has been running his whole life, but it wasn’t until college he began running competitively.
He originally attended a two-year college and became a teacher, but later enrolled in a running academy.
The running academy is where American recruiters first became interested in Cheseto. In 2008 he accepted a full athletic scholarship to the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Cheseto placed first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for distance running three years in a row. He was also a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regional champion in 2009 and 2010. He achieved All-American status in 2008 and 2010, and was the conference Male Athlete of the year from 2008 to 2010.
On top of all of that, Cheseto holds the record for the Anchorage Mayor’s Half Marathon, set in 2010.
In 2011, however, that all changed.
In a state of deep depression after his cousin committed suicide, Cheseto left his Alaskan home in the middle of a storm wearing only jeans and a light jacket.
He wasn’t found for three days, enough time to develop severe frostbite in his extremities. Doctors had no choice but to amputate both of the runner’s feet.
Fast-forward four years, and Cheseto is quickly becoming an elite Paralympic runner.
Cheseto said that what he does isn’t much different than what athletes with both legs do — he just uses prosthetics.
“The prosthetics, it’s like trying different running shoes,” Cheseto said. “I need the right shoe to run well. … Each day I learn a new skill on how to use them, how should I land so that I don’t lose my consistency when I have gained my speed.”
Being an athlete before his amputations gave Chesesto an advantage when he entered the Paralympic circuit. And so, when he was given the opportunity to run again, he didn’t pass it up.
“I had not heard of Paralympic athletes before my amputations,” Cheseto said. “I watched other stories of other amputees and then others started contacting me if I was interested again in running, and I said I would give it a try.”
As Cheseto began to run more, he posted a video on Facebook of him and a couple other runners sprinting and that was when he was asked if he wanted to try sprinting, having been a long-distance runner before his amputations.
Cheseto is still getting used to running competitively with his new ‘shoes,’ but has made vast improvements in the last few years as a runner, his times are consistently improving as he continues to practice and race competitively.
His biggest goal at the moment is to become the second paralympian runner to race in the Olympics.
Cheseto and David Brown will face off at 7:07 p.m. in the 200-meter on Friday at Drake Stadium.