Sunday, July 1, 2007

MARIETTA, Ga. — The Paralympics is about inspiring people who are athletes first, and people with disabilities second.

They think just like the elite athletes who competed at the USATF Outdoor Championships last week. Yet they also have come far to overcome what many of us see as physical limitations, but they see simply as challenges. They come in wheelchairs, with visual impairments, with prosthetic limbs or with neurological disabilities, including cerebral palsy or spina bifida.

More than 200 track and field athletes from seven countries have traveled to this hot Atlanta suburb to compete at the 2007 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships this weekend. The meet is the sole qualifier for the 2007 Parapan American Games in Brazil.

Athletes to watch include Brian Frasure (amputee, Apex, N.C.), Joshua George (wheelchair, Herndon), Royal Mitchell (visually impaired, Ardmore, Pa.), Marlon Shirley (amputee, Tremonton, Utah), Casey Tibbs (amputee, San Antonio), Cheri Blauwet (wheelchair, Palo Alto, Calif.), April Holmes (amputee Somerdale, Pa.) and Tatyana McFadden (wheelchair, Clarksville, Md.).

Still running — Former George Mason middle distance star, Ugandan Julius Achon, is attempting a comeback, but not in the 800 meters or 1,500 meters he dominated 10 years ago. He was hoping to flying back to Uganda this weekend from his home in Portland, Ore., to run 5,000 meters at the National Athletics Championship on Friday and Saturday.

But a car accident on May 16 has temporarily derailed his plans.

“I was hit from behind and I’ve had severe headaches and I’ve had to take a month off, so I am not going to run in Uganda next week,” said Achon, who said he has been back jogging in the past five days.

Achon, 30, has been slowing in recent years and has put much energy into youth coaching and philanthropy, nearly retiring from professional racing. But the prospects of making the World Championships team for Uganda this year re-energized his career.

“I was in better shape before the accident than I was in 2005,” said Achon, who ran a personal best 13:56.89 at the Cardinal Invitational on May 1, 2005. “Part of my training is with Galen [Rupp], Dan Browne, [Adam] Goucher and [Alberto] Salazar. I’m not pushing it now. I will train for the Olympics next year and see what happens.

“It should be easy for me to make the team because there are only two rising guys in the 5,000,” said the 2000 Olympian and four-time World Championships qualifier who ran a 46:04 15K three months ago in Portland. “I feel I’m getting stronger in the 5K.”

The former Ugandan national 800/1,500 titlist still holds the 800 national collegiate record of 1:44.55, which he set in 1996.

Going Brazil nuts Several area athletes will be part of Team USA at the 2007 Pan American Games on July 22-29 in Rio de Janeiro, USATF announced this week.

The 400-meter hurdles should be a strong event for the United States, with two-time NCAA champion and two-time U.S. runner-up Sheena Johnson of Stafford, Va., leading the way. Mechelle Lewis of Fort Washington will represent the United States in the 100 meters while Jacob Frey of Oakton will run the marathon.

Meanwhile, the Team USA roster also was announced for 2007 Pan American Junior Athletic Championships to be held July 6-8 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Leading the charge will be University of Oregon-bound Matthew Centrowitz of Arnold, Md.

Centrowitz, 17, was the “youth” half of the Youth vs. Master showdown at the American Milers Club High Performance Series race last Wednesday in Bloomington, Ind. The “master” half’s representative was 40-year-old Jim Sorensen.

Both Centrowitz and Sorensen are eager to break the four-minute mile. Both are close — Centrowitz running 4:03.40 recently while Sorensen has gone 4:01.86. And they had Daniel Wilson, who has run a 3:59, in the field. Wilson went 4:01.00, Centrowitz went 4:03.47 and Sorensen went 4:05.27.

The good news for Centrowitz is that he is young with years of improvement ahead of him. The bad news for Sorensen is that running a sub-four will continue to get tougher, not easier.

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