Wheeling Central’s Cooper Blair To Take Part In Paralympic Trials
Wheeling Central senior-to-be will run in 100, 400
Such is the goal for Wheeling Central senior-to-be Cooper Blair, who is in Minneapolis preparing to take part in the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials with hopes of earning a spot on Team USA for Paralympic Games, which will be held Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
Blair will begin competition this evening at 6:30 p.m. EST in the qualifying heats of the 100 meter dash and he will also compete on Saturday evening in the 400 meter dash.
“The dream is to make it to Tokyo,” Blair said.
“I realize I am very young, but I feel like I can compete.”
Blair achieved the 100 meter dash qualifying mark early in the season with the Maroon Knights, but formally entered with his 11.72 clocking, which is a personal best effort. Though he doesn’t compete often in the 400 during the prep season, he ran a 56-flat at the Dick Dei Classic at Wheeling Park last month to earn his spot in that event.
Blair, 17, will be one of the youngest competitors in the field in both events. While that provides a challenge, it also provides motivation.
“I’ll be competing against guys who are in their 20s and 30s and have a lot more experience at meets at this level, but I am looking forward to showing that I can compete with these guys,” Blair said.
Though much of his competition will be older, all competing have the same disability, which is missing one or two legs below the knee.
Blair had both of his feet amputated at 2 years old after being diagnosed with amniotic band syndrome.
“That causes fluid in wounds to wrap around arms and legs,” Blair said.
“I lost circulation to my feet and eventually underwent 27 sets of casts and surgeries trying to correct it, but my feet wouldn’t go back to normal and continued to be backward and twisted, so my parents made the decision to amputate.”
Seven years later, Blair was introduced to track and field. He went to a meet in Oklahoma simply to see what it was all about and hoping to meet new people.
“I did alright in the meet, but I fell in love with the sport,” Blair said. “I’ve just continued to stick with it since then.”
Team USA can take up to the top three in each event, but there’s no guarantee that a top three finish earns a trip to Japan. Some of that decision is based on times. But, Blair isn’t thinking about that part just yet.
“While the goal is to take first place, I am just hoping for a good race,” Blair said. “I am trying not to think about the races too much to help keep me from getting nervous.”
Obviously, Blair wants to fare well and make the team for later this summer. But, at the same time, he realizes that his age will give him additional opportunities to compete for a berth on Team USA again in three years and maybe beyond.
“It’s been my dream to make it Tokyo,” Blair said. “But, If I don’t make it, I’ll work toward the next Paralympics in 2024. Actually, whether I make it or not, I am going to try to make it (to the Paralympics) again.”
The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for Blair. He and his fellow Wheeling Central track teammates took part in the WVSSAC State Meet last Wednesday. The next morning he and his mom, Richelle, departed for Arkansas to meet with his prosthetist, Francois Van Der Watt, to fine tune his blades for trials.
From Arkansas, the Blairs flew to the Twin Cities to continue his preparation. They arrived on Monday had to go through COVID-19 protocols and registration and resumed training on Tuesday at McKnight Stadium at Breck School, which is the site of this weekend’s meet.
“The venue isn’t the largest, but there are no spectators permitted, so I guess it didn’t have to be really big. It’s a nice track in a beautiful area,” Blair said.
Blair is entering the meet riding some momentum. He finished fifth in the West Virginia Class A state meet in the 100 meter dash and was part of the state runner-up 4×1 and sixth-place 4×2 teams. He ran anchor on both squads.
“It was a fun season,” Blair said. “We did a lot better than we thought we would do. I am hoping to be able to compete for a state championship my senior year.”
Blair admitted that he would be at the starting line at times during the prep season and notice fellow competitors glancing down toward his legs. He didn’t take it as an insult. He actually looked at it as an opportunity to educate others.
“I’ve become used to people being curious about my legs,” Blair said. “No one is ever rude about it. I am glad people ask questions because I can teach them what it’s about, so they don’t just assume things. If the roles were reversed, I would be curious, too.”