Austin Pruitt, of the Greenacres Ward in the Spokane Valley Stake, was always competitive. He played on his school basketball team and participated in track and field. He wasn’t afraid of doing anything. Except telling his friends he had a disability.
Austin Pruitt, of the Greenacres Ward in the Spokane Valley Stake, finishes a winning lap. Contributed Photo.
“For a while, I didn’t want people to know,” says Pruitt, who has Cerebral Palsy. “I sometimes made up stories to tell my friends. I was always competitive and did lots of able-bodied sports, so people didn’t really know.”
It was as a student at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley that Pruitt discovered another outlet for his competitive streak, in the form of wheelchair racing. A friend recruited him for Team St. Luke’s (sponsored by Spokane-based St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute), a racing team that was coached by Teresa Skinner. She had previously coached rugby, basketball and track for the disabled.
Pruitt surprised both his coach and himself when he began putting up some fast racing times, almost from the start. He was so good that Skinner encouraged him to attend the Junior Nationals, and at his first large race he easily outdistanced the competition.
“I knew I was fast, but I didn’t know I was that good,” Pruitt said.
He was so fast that when his coach compared his times to the standard qualifying times to get to the World Championships she informed him that he had qualified in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races. The World Championships are one step just below the Paralympics, which is like the Olympics, but for the physically disabled. It is also separate from the Special Olympics, which is for the developmentally disabled.
In September, Pruitt was one of five St. Luke’s athletes named to the Team USA squad that will compete at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in New Zealand Jan. 21-30, 2011. It marked the first time an individual program has qualified so many athletes to the national team.
Pruitt has now been racing for three years and has never looked back. He qualified and did well at the U.S. Nationals this last summer and has attended a number of international meets as well, winning all the races in his class at one. He is in the midst of attending training camps to get him ready for the upcoming World Championship which will be in New Zealand. When asked about his most memorable moment in all this, he doesn’t hesitate.
“I’ll never forget going to the Olympic Training Center in California,” he said. “Most people don’t even get to go in there, and not only do I get to visit, but I get to train there. It was awesome.”
In addition to racing, Austin enjoys games of basketball. Contributed Photo.
His training is extensive and includes his own personal training which is for one to two hours at a time, six days a week. He also attends training camps where he takes part in workouts, competes with others, and attends presentations on issues like anti-doping and sponsorships. Currently he is ranked #1 in the world, in his racing event.
How does his family and church play into his full schedule? Pruitt admits that he is very busy and he also has a father who travels for work so they don’t often see each other. But he says that it only makes their time together that much more important.
“In every sport you have problems, bad and good things happen,” he said. “But your relationships with your family, your friends, your spiritual relationship, those are always there and they give you a break from all the rest of it. When I’m home with my mom and dad, we just do everything we can together. We appreciate being together even more.”
For Pruitt, wheelchair racing has opened up a whole new world to him. He said he no longer feels the need to hide his disability. Instead, he has accepted his challenges, and used them to excel in life and share his story with others.
“None of us ever thought something like this would happen, not even my parents, and they are as excited as I am,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned from this is that even with a disability, I can do anything. If someone is worried about doing something like this, I say just do it, because it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”