Fesemyer makes history on the track

NEWTON FALLS – Alone on the track and with all eyes on her, Southeast’s Jenna Fesemyer made history on Saturday.

Seated in a wheelchair built specially for competition, the sophomore became the first high school track athlete in Trumbull County history to compete in a wheelchair by participating in the adapted 100-meter dash and the shot put at the Tiger Invitational.

“It’s such an honor to go out there and race and show people the diversity that can be on the track,” Fesemyer said. “I had some butterflies, but it’s good butterflies. I was excited to show everybody what I can do with this, and I was really excited to show people what I’ve been working on.”

Fesemyer had a little bit of a hiccup to start the race but managed to finish in 25.8 seconds. In the shot put, she threw it 12-7.25.

For Fesemyer, it was a brand new experience, performing in an aerodynamic, competitive wheelchair. Born without her left leg due to proximal femoral focal deficiency, she competed in discus events with a prosthetic leg as a freshman.

With her lack of experience racing this way, she doesn’t know how to rate her performance, although she said she was content with her performance on Saturday.

“I’m not criticizing myself right now because that was my first time ever 100-meter (race) in my wheelchair,” Jenna said. “I’m really not sure what’s good and what’s bad yet, but I know that I have a lot of room to improve.”

With her participation at the Tiger Invitational, Fesemyer took advantage of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors’ decision to approve eight wheelchair events at the state meet in Columbus starting this year.

The movement started two years ago in the coaches association, according to Dave Kirk, the Chagrin Falls coach and District 2 representative to the OATCCC. He said he hopes that other high school athletes take advantage of this ruling like Fesemyer.

“Kids like Jenna and others kids across the state that are competing this year are, in a way, giving permission to these other kids,” Kirk said. “They’re saying, ‘You don’t have to sit at home, you don’t have to settle for being the photographer and the waterboy… Come be a competitor.’ “

It didn’t take long to pique someone’s interest, her coach and mother, Cindy, said. An eighth grader with spina bifida in the Southeast school district came to the meet on Saturday.

“We really want to put it out there and say, ‘Look, there are these opportunities,’ ” Cindy said. “There’s a girl from our school that’s here today who’s in eighth grade. She wants to watch Jenna race because she wants to do this next year, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

As well as inspiring others, Jenna said she wishes to qualify for state meet in the 100-meter race.

In order for her to do that, she must finish the regular season with one of the eight best times in the state. Now that she has one race under her belt, Jenna said she can only go up from here, but if she wants to make it to Jessie Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus on June 7 and 8, she will need to come off the gun a lot better than on Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to improving and getting my starts down better,” Jenna said. “Once I get my starts down and once I get my full form down, I should be moving faster than I was doing (today).”

Others have faith in Jenna’s abilities to make it to state, including Kirk.

The Chagrin Falls coach has known Cindy for some time as both are coaches, and he got to know Jenna over the past couple of years. He’ll be rooting for her to succeed.

“There are going to be a lot of firsts set this year by all these kids state-wide – first in their school, first in their county, first in their leagues,” Kirk said. “We’re going to set state records in all of those events. If Jenna Fesemyer ends up of with a couple of those, I’ll be OK with that.”