The 29th annual 2012 National Junior Disabilities Championships (NJDC), held this year in Mesa, Arizona, saw 115 junior athletes with physical disabilities, ranging in age from seven to 21 years, “beat the heat” in temperatures ranging upward of 100 degrees as they competed in track and field, archery, powerlifting, table tennis, swimming, and the pentathlon. Participants came from across the United States and as far away as Thailand to participate in this eight-day event, held July 21-28.
The athletes all qualified at regional meets held earlier in the year for the opportunity to compete in the NJDC. “These aren’t recreational athletes doing this just for fun,” Josh Todd, sports-development manager for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The Arizona Republic. “Their dream is to be in the Paralympics.”
In fact, results for athletes with a 2012 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) license counted toward IPC World Rankings, IPC World Records, and World Championships qualification. One such competitor was Austin “A. J.” Digby who, at the age of ten months, underwent elective bilateral transtibial amputations due to a congenital fibula hemomelia. He earned 3,029 IPC points for competing in the pentathlon. He also competed in the discus, long jump, shot put, and the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes. Digby is a prior NJDC competitor and has also competed in other games for athletes with disabilities such as the ParaPan American Games and Thunder in the Valley Games.
However, not all were seasoned NJDC competitors. Gagun Pagjirapom, who has an upper-limb amputation, traveled from Thailand to compete in the (under-23/female division) long jump and the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes. Newbie Garrison Hayes, a unilateral transfemoral amputee, traveled from Aurora, Colorado, to compete in table tennis and track and field events and earned 2,600 IPC points for his pentathlon participation.
“I like meeting new people and learning that there are others like me, and that I can run as fast as them,” Hayes told NJDC blogger Elyse Field.
During the course of the week, records were broken and many athletes set their personal bests. However, aside from challenging and cheering on fellow competitors, time was set aside for the athletes to make friends with others. Scheduled social events started with the opening ceremonies and a meet-and-greet dance social, and included the chance to attend an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game, game time, a pool party, and the closing ceremony awards banquet.
Dates for the 2013 NJDC have not yet been set, but they are typically held in July.