More than 150 world-class athletes will descend on the College of San Mateo for the 2014 US Paralympic Track & Field National Championships this weekend.
The event is open to all international competitors who qualify and will likely attract a global field of athletes with a variety of disabilities. Athletes are divided into five classifications based on their disability: amputation, visual impairment, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, and short stature. Within these classifications, athletes are broken into sub-groups based on the severity of their disability.
I will join wheelchair racer and US Paralympian Steven Toyoji in representing the Bay Area at the competition this weekend.
Toyoji has a full slate of events, competing in every event available in his classification: the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m. I will also be competing in the 100m, 200m, along with the long jump.
When Toyoji was eight months old, he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis -- a rare neurological disorder that causes inflammation along the spinal cord. The inflammation paralyzed him from the shoulders down, but he regained feeling and minimal function in his hands and feet. He is able to walk, usually with the assistance of a walker, but requires a wheelchair in his daily life.
He has never known another life, and has always found ways to be active and positive. He grew up playing wheelchair basketball and discovered track when one of his basketball teammates urged him to attend a training sessions.
He fell in love with the high speeds he achieved on the track, and discovered the Paralympics in 2006.
He earned a spot on Team USA and made his international debut in the marathon during the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. Toyoji, accustomed to Paralympic crowds typically consisting of 200 friends and family, was in awe when he found himself in front of the 90,000 people attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing. His ensuing marathon race added to the experience as he got an accelerated 26.2 mile tour of the entire city of Beijing, starting in Tiananmen Square.
Toyoji left Beijing with high hopes and a desire to reach the podium in 2012. However, his quest to earn a medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games was derailed by a broken femur in 2011. Toyoji returned to the track with six months to prepare, but was still left on the outside looking in as he missed his second Paralympic Games and a shot at the podium.
Toyoji made a full recovery to represent the United States at the 2013 World Championships in Lyon. The extra recovery time worked in his favor and helped him find his bearings as he earned a bronze medal in the 800m.
After missing the mark to qualify for London and earning a place on the podium in Lyon, Toyoji is motivated to reach new heights at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. His campaign begins with the 200m dash on Friday morning at the 2014 Paralympic Track & Field National Championships in San Mateo. San Mateo is the first west coast city to host the event.
I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my sophomore year of high school and told I would never run again. Following my Freshman year in college, I decided to amputate my leg to get back on the track.
Ranjit Steiner is a Production Assistant with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area