BACK ON TRACK: Paralyzed David Moreno races for Tulare Union Redskins

BACK ON TRACK: Paralyzed David Moreno races for Tulare Union Redskins

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BACK ON TRACK: Paralyzed David Moreno races for Tulare Union Redskins

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David Moreno didn’t think it was possible.

How could he run for the Tulare Union High School track team while being paralyzed from the waist down?

Yet when Moreno lost the use of his legs during a car accident in September 2012, Tulare Union cross country coach Andrea Martinez asked him to do exactly that. She wanted Moreno, a senior who had never completed a full track season before then, to compete against able-bodied athletes.

Soon track coach Dave Schlick joined the recruiting process. He saw Moreno every day and always greeted him with that same question: “Are you coming out for track?”

Don’t Stop Him Now

Moreno tried out for the track team as an able-bodied junior but decided to drop out because he didn’t like it and wanted to keep working. His transition back to the team as a disabled senior didn’t start out markedly better.

“At first I did have some hesitations,” Moreno said. “The first time I came out here, I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt like everyone was looking at me like, ‘Why is this kid in a wheelchair out here? He’s slow and can’t do anything.'”

Moreno felt especially out-of-place during team stretching. He would just sit back and watch, not knowing what to do. Eventually coach Schlick instructed him to do dips, pushups and pull-ups in addition to laps around the track. His teammates have since warmed up to his role on the team because of his noticeable work ethic.

“(Moreno) works harder than anyone else and he has to work harder because it’s so difficult just to propel yourself only with your arms,” Schlick said. “At the end of every run that we do, he’s sweating, huffing — his arms, he just has to hang his arms because he can’t move them. But he never complains.”

Moreno served as a captain and assistant coach for the Tulare Union soccer team this fall. Although he did take the field for a few emotional moments on senior night, his role was mostly limited to the sidelines. Moreno was not named as a captain for the track team, but he will gladly trade the leadership role for a chance to compete again.

And if lacking the ability to use his legs isn’t stopping Moreno from competing, lacking an official title won’t stop him from leading, either.

“There’s a lot of athletes on our team that have every part of their body working fine and they won’t work hard,” Schlick said. “He would love to have his legs working so he could work as hard as possible. That’s an inspiration to others.”

But along with that inspiration, Moreno will also generate plenty of questions.

100 Meter Spin

At first the question seems obvious even though it should come off as absurd.

Does Moreno gain an advantage from his wheelchair?

South African “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius faced similar questions while competing in the Olympics with prosthetic legs.

While elite disabled athletes like Pistorius can still pose a competitive threat to able-bodied runners, they only do so after overcoming the clear disadvantages of being unable to naturally use their legs. Moreno is no exception.

“At the upper levels, people in race chairs are moving at the same speed as able-bodied athletes,” Schlick said. “I doubt that he gets to that level where it will be a problem this season. It won’t be a problem unless he starts beating people.”

Anyone wondering whether or not Moreno gains an advantage from his wheelchair received a rather definite answer when he competed in Tulare Union’s first track meet of the season against Mission Oak on Feb. 28.

Moreno finished the 100-meter dash in 30.0 seconds, more than two-times slower than the average time of an able-bodied high school male runner.

And that was just the 100. Schlick expects Moreno to be at even more of a disadvantage over longer distances.

But he is already improving. Although Moreno must wait for Tulare Union’s next meet to make it official, his best time in practice is 27 seconds.

Moreno will likely continue to shave seconds off his time as the season progresses, but his goals are much bigger than that.

Whoppers For Wheels

At first, Schlick just wanted to see Moreno out on the track. Now he hopes to see much more.

“I was excited to get him out here,” Schlick said. “I didn’t know if it would really happen. Then he came and he loves it. I started thinking, ‘Why not take this to the next level? Maybe this could be a career for him. Maybe this is a sport he could compete in at a higher level.'”

Moreno was hesitant when asked to join the high school team, but he is already eager to see what his track future holds. Of particular interest to him are the Paralympics.

“When they mentioned the Paralympics to me, I saw all the events that they had and everything I could do. It caught my attention,” Moreno said. “My doctors told me I would be really perfect at it. They saw I was really good at it. They believe in me that someday I will get to that level and compete in the Paralympics.”

In order to do that, however, Moreno needs a new wheelchair designed specifically for racing.

Right now he uses the only one he has to compete. It works fine for everyday purposes, but on the track it creates even more of a disadvantage than he is already at.

The Tulare Union Associated Student Body is raising money to buy him a racing wheelchair.

The wheelchair, which will be custom built by Invacare to fit Moreno’s dimensions, specific injury and abilities, takes six weeks to build and costs $3,200.

It will allow him to pump his arms faster than he can in his current equipment. It will feature an extension bar protruding from the front with a third wheel at the end. The two main side wheels will be angled out. Moreno will be positioned much lower to the ground with his legs folded underneath his body.

As of Tuesday morning, $725 had already been donated to “Team David.”

To raise more funds, the Burger King at Bardsley Avenue and O Street near the Tulare County Fair Grounds will donate 25 percent of its proceeds from today. Moreno will be at the restaurant from 6-8 p.m. to help promote the event.

Donations can also be made by writing a check out to “Tulare Union High School” with “David Moreno” on the memo line. Mail checks to 755 E. Tulare Ave., Tulare, CA 93274.

Bronze level donations start at $5. Silver level donations start at $25. Gold level donations start at $100.

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