Oregon teen returns to track competition as para-athlete, gives back with laps

Anna Reed, Statesman Journal

Oregon teen returns to track competition as para-athlete, gives back with laps

News

Oregon teen returns to track competition as para-athlete, gives back with laps

WILLAMINA – It’s been six months since the crash that altered Owen Baker’s life.

Baker, a junior at Willamina High School, was paralyzed from the waist down after a single-car crash on Hebo Road between Grand Ronde and Nestucca.

He was a passenger in the back seat of a Jeep Wrangler late in the afternoon of Oct. 22, headed to Nestucca for a fishing expedition with two friends. Only Baker, who was wearing a seat belt, suffered serious injuries after the vehicle rolled over and plunged down what he described as “a 35-foot embankment” in slippery conditions.

Baker spent two weeks in the trauma unit at OHSU Hospital in Portland where he underwent surgery, followed by nearly two months of physical therapy at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanue. He returned home a few days before Christmas.

Staying positive

There have been dark days during his recovery, but thoughts of ‘why me?’ are typically replaced by “thinking about good stuff,” said Baker, 16, who has participated in football, wrestling, basketball and track and field at Willamina.

The positive thoughts centered around what didn’t happen: his spinal cord was not severed. He has regained some feeling in both legs, and because it’s an incomplete spinal injury there’s hope that one day he’ll walk again.

“I can move my left leg a little bit,” Baker said. “I can feel about to my ankle. My right leg is a little behind, but I can still feel some stuff.

“I totally see it coming back, slowly but surely.”

Being in a wheelchair has been a life-changing experience for Baker, but it does not define him.

In fact, there are some advantages. Since returning to school in January, Baker joked, he’s able to get to classes “a little faster” now that he’s on wheels.

Baker has returned to the track as a para-athlete, utilizing a racing chair to compete in the 100-meter dash, 400 and 1,500. He’s learned to throw the shot put from his wheelchair with some coaching from junior shot putter Andrew Kennedy, who also was a passenger in the crash.

“He throws as far as I did when I first started and that’s sitting down,” said Kennedy, shaking his head and smiling as he marveled about the accomplishment.

Baker and Kennedy have been friends since second grade and the accident has strengthened their bond.

Willamina junior Andrew Kennedy (left) has been working with Owen Baker in the shot put. They’ve been friends since second grade. (Photo: Gary Horowitz/Statesman Journal)

Kennedy admires the way Baker handled himself in the moments after the accident and throughout his recovery.

“Just the way he’s taken it is just amazing,” Kennedy said. “Even during the accident he was still calm, kept his composure. I know if I were him I’d be crying like a little baby. It really is inspirational.”

Baker downplays the inspirational talk and says nonchalantly, “I’m just doing what I’m doing.

Kennedy admires the way Baker handled himself in the moments after the accident and throughout his recovery.

“Just the way he’s taken it is just amazing,” Kennedy said. “Even during the accident he was still calm, kept his composure. I know if I were him I’d be crying like a little baby. It really is inspirational.”

Baker downplays the inspirational talk and says nonchalantly, “I’m just doing what I’m doing.

Join now
99¢ First Month

“It’s inspirational to me that other people think I’m an inspiration,” he said.

Baker credits his girlfriend, junior Hannah Hughes, for providing moral support.

Hughes, a multi-event standout on the Willamina track team, said Baker’s interactions with visitors during his hospital stay spoke volumes about his character.

“He’s the kind of person that at his lowest point in the hospital, he was trying to make everyone else happy and feel welcome,” Hughes said. “He’s pretty awesome.”

Read the rest of the story in The Statesman Journal

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports
Home
https://usatodayhss.com/2018/oregon-teen-returns-to-track-competition-as-para-athlete-gives-back-with-laps
Oregon teen returns to track competition as para-athlete, gives back with laps
I found this story on USA TODAY High School Sports and wanted to share it with you: %link% For more high school stories, stats and videos, visit http://usatodayhss.com.