MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For many of America’s best Paralympics athletes, St. Paul is the center of attention this weekend.
The U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships are at Hamline University, with about 200 of the top Americans competing.
But competing for a national championship is not something that happens in just one weekend.
“It’s six days a week, year ’round,” Park Rapids native Aaron Pike said. “You’re always training.”
For one weekend though, the national championship is right here in Pike’s home state.
“It’s very rare that you’ll have something going on in your home state for track and field or any sport that I’ve done,” he said.
Pike is one of just a handful of Minnesotans enjoying a little home track advantage. Irondale grad Mark Braun is another.
“It’s amazing, just to have that here,” he said.
Cathy Sellers, the high performance director for U.S. Paralympics Track and Field, said being in the Midwest was a priority for this year’s competition.
“It’s easy for athletes,” she said. “This is a hub city. Transportation is excellent here for people with physical disabilities. And a great facility, that’s why we’re here.”
As great as a national championship would be, these athletes are thinking even bigger. Do well enough here, and they can also qualify for the Parapan American Games in Toronto and the World Championships in Qatar.
“You’re more pushing against the clock than for place,” Pike said.
But they’re also very aware of their place in the bigger picture. Like Jacques Swafford of Atlanta, many of them are wounded veterans.
“We’re losing 22 veterans a day to suicide,” Swafford said. “And getting out to events like this really gives us something to look at the glass as being half-full instead of half-empty.”
All of these athletes have a reason for being here that’s bigger than competition: community.
“You get to meet a lot of people, you make friends,” Braun said. “And those friends are your competitors. So on the track, you’re competitors. Off the track, you’re buddies.”