by Troy A. Sparks
When Milwaukee Vincent freshman Sedrick Washington wanted to try something new, he didn’t waste time.
He works just as hard on the track on three wheels as his two-legged teammates.
What separates Washington from the other Viking tracksters is the determination and effort at the events he competes. Washington often competes alone in his events as spectators and athletes cheer him on.
A car accident at 3 years old paralyzed Washington from the waist down. He uses a regular wheelchair to get around, but it takes him longer to complete a race in a wheelchair with one wheel in the front and two in the back.
Washington’s times are slow, but he’s trying a sport new to him. And he has at least four years to see where it takes him.
“I wanted to get a workout, get out there and make something happen,” Washington said.
Brief conversations by track coach Glen Gardiner, in his 15th year, persuaded Washington to try wheelchair racing.
“He’s brand new to it,” said Gardiner of Washington. “I just saw him in the hallways when I found out the wheelchair competition will be at the state meet. I just happened to see him in the hall when I found that out last fall and approached him. He seemed pretty open to it.
“About once a month, I would see him in the hall. I’m like, ‘Don’t forget, you’re coming out for track!’ He said, ‘I know, I know.’ He learns and I learn.”
When Washington is on the track racing, he must wear a helmet for safety reasons. It prevents him from a serious head injury.
“When (Washington) first got into that chair, the racing chair, he’s never been in it before,” Gardiner said. “And at the center of gravity, he found out that if you lean back too far, (he’ll tip over).”
Washington is using an old racing wheelchair, which is borrowed from someone in the MPS Recreation Department. It’s not quite the fit Washington is used to, but it’ll do.
Gardiner said there will be grant money available to purchase Washington his own chair that will make it more comfortable for him.
At the City Conference outdoor meet at Wisconsin Lutheran College, May 19, Washington was clocked at 25.68 seconds in the 100-meter dash. His time in the 400 was 1 minute 51.83 seconds and the 1600 time was 8:42.31.
And Gardiner threw Washington in the shot put event at the last minute.
“We showed him how to do that (day before meet),” Gardiner said, laughing. “I actually went on You Tube and found shot put video. I had to go online and look up the rules, and we went from there.”
Washington threw the shot 11-feet, 7 inches from his regular wheelchair.
The WIAA offered wheelchair racing in regular meets last year. They will feature it for the first time at the state meet. That was what motivated Washington to give the sport a try.
“I just want the experience of how regular people go to state,” he said.
In some meets, Washington was the only one on the track, but he competed at the Marquette High Invitational against a racer from West Bend West who, according to Gardiner, is one of the best in the state.
“(Washington) saw where he is now and where he could be,” Gardiner said.
At the state meet in LaCrosse, Washington will have plenty of company, about 8-10 boys and four girls. “They are gonna be there,” he said.
But for Washington to get to state, he needs to finish one or all the races he competes in at the sectional meet this week and follow the rules, which means making adjustments to the chair on his own during a race. It means trying to get up if the chair tips backwards or on the side. Any assistance by anyone else during a race is an automatic disqualification.
There are other kids who may give wheelchair racing a try in the future, but don’t call Washington a trendsetter for something he took a shot at.
“If (other kids) do get inspired, I did something,” Washington said.
Added Gardiner: “There are more kids like Sedrick that could compete. And we’d like to see them compete at conference. I know they’re out there, because the person that we borrowed the chair from has kids that he knows of that have played (wheelchair) basketball for him or competed in other things.”
Every member of the Vincent track team accepts Washington and will help him when needed.
“Kids on the team are awesome,” Gardiner said. “If (Washington) falls, they’re over there to help him up if I can’t get there before they get there.”
Washington has learned to not to make his disability a crutch. He hardly needs help with everyday routines. And he wants everyone to know that he can do things on his own.
Through wheelchair racing, Washington is making a giant leap. He’ll get practice through MPS recreation once a week, next year, to master the art of racing on a track.