Athlete determination inspires others in sports

The fall season is beginning to wind down.  Men’s soccer and football only have three more games a piece, women’s soccer and volleyball only have four games left each, and cross country has their Northwest Conference on Nov. 2.  I figured this would be a good time to write an article about inspiring athletic stories to help motivate these athletes to finish the season strong.

Let’s start with a classic shall we? In the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Great Britain’s Derek Redmond was favored to win gold in the 400 meter dash.

This wasn’t Redmond’s first Olympics however.  Throughout his career, Redmond had suffered consistently through injuries. He was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Seoul Olympics minutes before his first heat because of tendinitis and in the  summer of 1989, he suffered a hamstring injury and in the summer of 1989, coming close to giving up the sport altogether.

However, Redmond worked through his injuries and in the first round Redmond had run his quickest 400-meter in four years.  Redmond was determined to run the semi-final strong in order to get a good running lane for the finals.

Redmond had a very good start running the first 100 meters flawlessly. Suddenly, 150 meters in, as Redmond started to straighten out around the bend he felt a massive pop.  He collapsed onto the floor in agony holding onto his right leg.  He had torn his hamstring and his running career was over.

But something amazing happened; a true visual of sheer determination. Redmond stood right back up refusing the aid of Red Cross workers and began finishing the race. Redmond’s father, who was a spectator in the audience, broke through security and ran out onto the track.  He tried to stop his son from finishing the race, fearing that Redmond’s injuries would worsen. When Redmond refused to stop, his father acknowledged his son’s determination and said “Well then, we’re going to finish this together” putting his arm around Redmond and supporting him son all the way to the finish line.  Although he never won an Olympic medal, Derek Redmond will always be remembered as an example of an athlete with pure grit and determination.

Athletes always have this longing for a shot; an opportunity to prove to their teammates and coaches their talent and determination to help their team grow. That’s exactly what Jason McElwain did during his last high school varsity basketball game.

McElwain was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, but as a high-functioning autistic high school student, he never saw his disorder as something that made him different.  He tried out for Greece Athena High School’s basketball team, but with his small 5’6 ft. frame he did not make the cut.  Instead, he served as team manager, missing only one game in three years.

On the last home game of his senior year, head coach Jim Johnson surprised McElwain with a jersey.  He explained to McElwain that he would get the chance to join the team on the bench and perhaps even play a few minutes.

With just over four minutes left and the Greece Athena Trojan’s up by 20 points, head Coach Jim Johnson called for jersey number 52, McElwain, to enter the game. Ecstatic, McElwain jumped off of the bench and entered the game, the crowd cheering with powerful enthusiasm.

McElwain missed his first jump shot attempt.  The crowd and McElwain’s teammates felt discouraged. They wanted more than anything to have McElwain score just one basket.

Then with three minutes and 12 seconds left in the game, McElwain got another chance. Something in McElwain clicked and when his teammate passed him the ball, he made a clean three point shot. The crowd went wild as his teammates on the benched jumped up and down cheering him on.

McElwain didn’t miss again, nailing five more three pointers and another deep jumper to total 20 quick points. In the last three seconds, he made a deep three point shot and when the buzzer sounded, fans and McElwain’s teammates rushed onto the court. In four minutes and 19 seconds, in his first and only varsity basketball game, McElwain was the high scorer.

Both Jason McElwain and Derek Redmond’s stories are timeless examples of athletic determination and dedication. Although these stories take place in an athletic setting, the story of these athletes transcends past the athletic fields and provides beaming examples of universal life lessons.

Camille Weber/ Sports columnist