As first years go, Amber Weber, Emily Owens and Austin Pruitt made quite an impression on the Central Valley High School track and field teams.
The trio combined to win seven titles at the state track and field championships last month in Tacoma. Not bad for three freshmen.
“I don’t have the words it would take to describe just how good it feels to be part of a team here,” Owens said. “To be accepted as part of the team as an athlete is incredible.
“Our teammates tell us that we inspire them. Wow.”
Weber, Owens and Pruitt each compete in wheelchair events and all three have qualified for the national championships later this summer.
“It has been such a wonderful experience to have these three incredible kids out for track this season,” assistant track coach Jeff McGlocklin said. “They are integral parts of this team and part of this family.”
For Weber, who came one spot away from qualifying for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the 2008-’09 high school season has been a powerful building block toward her goal of making the 2012 games in London.
“I have learned so much and improved so much,” she said. “I’ve gotten stronger and I’ve learned how to compete better.
Weber was the first girl to cross the finish line in each of her four state meet events, the 200, 800, 1,600 and 3,200. While none of her times were personal bests, Weber is pleased with her performance and busy preparing for two big meets next month: the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation games in Switzerland in mid-July and the National Junior Disabilities Championships in St. Charles, Mo.
“Right now I’m working hard getting ready to take my final exams,” she laughed. “But as soon as those tests are done, I’m going to be out on the track, training for Switzerland. I have one workout per week with my teammates at Team St. Luke’s, but the rest of the time I’ll be on the track here (At CV) any time I can get on.
“And I start weight training for the first time! I’m excited about that.”
A year ago Weber won five gold and three silver medals at the NJDC games in Piscataway, N.J.
“It’s meant a lot to me to be part of a team,” she said. “When I was competing in middle school, I was always the ‘wheelchair athlete.’ I was a separate entity. I had trouble even getting to the track.
“Here I’m treated like everyone else. I go and do the same workout as everyone else. But at the same time I have a tremendous amount of support.
“When we get on the bus for a meet, I have teammates stepping up and helping to stow our chairs,” Owens said. “It’s hard to describe just how much something like that means.”
Owens placed first in the 100 and 400 in Tacoma and was second behind her teammate in the 200 and 1,600.
“I’ve learned so much already,” Owens said. “Starting with cross country in the fall, it’s been a great experience. The seniors this year have been awesome and we’re going to miss them. I guess we’re going to have to start training next year’s seniors so we can keep it going.”
Like Weber, Owens is primed for the NJDC games and looks to improve on her impressive showing from a year ago, when she captured two gold, a silver and a bronze medal in the shot, discus, javelin and club, plus another seven gold medals in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,500 and relays and a gold medal in the pentathlon.
“We still have more qualifying to go through and that will be this coming week,” she said.
Pruitt competed in wheelchair on the track for the first time this spring.
“I’ve been a part of Team St. Luke’s for quite a while and I’ve competed in both track and field events before, but it was always standing,” he said. “I have Cerebral Palsy and I use a wheelchair at school and when I have to travel any kind of a distance.
“This year my coaches talked me into getting into the racing chair.”
The transition wasn’t always easy.
“I think people think it’s pretty easy to do this,” he said. “It’s not. The first time I did it I could barely make it around the track once.”
That makes Pruitt’s finish at the state meet all the more impressive. The freshman was second in the 100 and 200 and won the 400.
“I was supposed to be in the 1,600, too,” he explained. “But I blew a wheel in the regional.”
All three are avidly interested in the surfaces at the various tracks they compete on, and all three gave a thumbs down to the surface at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
“The track was squishy,” Pruitt said. “When a track is squishy like that, it makes the going that much harder. You don’t see your best times and you have to work harder. It’s a little like trying to run in sand.”
“What we really like are the harder tracks,” Weber added. “The track at Spokane Falls Community College is much better. The times are much better there.”