Southeast sophomore ready for state meet

PALMYRA – Jenna Fesemyer took the wheelchair from the back of her family’s minivan.

The aerodymanic style with two, almost bicycle-like tires in the back and smaller rubber in the front, gives the look of a manual-style dragster.

The Southeast High School sophomore took off her prosthetic leg she wears and put on her helmet and gloves that look more like hard canvas oven mits to help her motor her racing chair around the track.

She was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, which means the hip is deformed and the leg shortened. In Fesemyer’s case, she was born without a left leg.

Fesemyer is relegated to practicing on the school’s asphalt parking lot, which is more like an all-weather track than the school’s regular running surface, in preparation for her debut Saturday at the state track and field meet in Columbus.

This is the first year wheelchair events (100-, 400-, 800-meter dashes and shot put) have been included in the state track and field meet.

There are 11 boys and Fesemyer competing Saturday in and outside of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on The Ohio State University campus.

“It’s going to be a totally different experience,” she said. “I’m not sure what the atmosphere is going to be like, but I’m sure it’s going to be a positive one. Someone told me there will be 10,000 to 12,000 people at state. That will be pretty exciting. I have some butterflies, but they’re good butterflies. I’m really excited how state’s like and I’m excited what it’s to bring to all the athletes that are going there.”

All of the competitors had to meet a qualifying standard in each of the four events during regular-season events to qualify for state.

Chagrin Falls High school track and field coach Dave Kirk, the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country District 2 representative, said Saturday’s four events were years in the making.

The 100 is with the Division III finals at 9:40 a.m. The shot put is with Division I at noon. The 400 is at 2:05 p.m., with the Division II finals. And, the 800 is with the Division I finals at 5:55 p.m.

“They’re going to do more in 30 seconds than anything we’ve done in the last three years,” Kirk said.

It’s going to be a long day for Fesemyer, said her mother and Southeast girls track and field coach, Cindy.

“I didn’t get a hotel room for that night. I might be looking for hotel room for that night,” Cindy said.

Jenna’s focus is mental as well as physical.

“I just have to stay positive throughout the day,” she said. “I have to keep my body warm and loose so I can perform effieciently. I think I’m going to bring lots of water, keep hydrated, keep loose and I have to stay positive. If I don’t do well in one race, I need to get right back at it and go with the others.

“It’s not an overwhelming, but it’s an experience I’ve never experienced before. It’s going to be a totally different atmosphere.”

This season, Jenna has competed in wheelchair and able-bodied events. During last year’s Division II Salem District, she competed in the discus.

It’s still one of her events she does during regular-season meets. However, Cindy is wary of letting her daughter compete in more than four events.

“Sometimes now and then we have to be careful she doesn’t do five because she wants to do regular discus,” Cindy said. “I have to make sure she does the three, whatever she wants, and then throws. She tries to sneak it in every now and then.”

So, will there come a day when an athlete with prosethic legs like Jenna compete in the regular state track and field events?

“Absoultely,” she said. “I actually raced in the 4×100 meet at Champion Invitational this year. I raced in what they call our ironwoman relay for throwers. We ended up getting fourth. I couldn’t believe it. I raced in the 4×100. I can see more of that coming as the future comes along. I have a lot of work to do, just as everyone else. There are things to work on and you have to improve certain things. As I do that, hopefully that will bring some more time running on the track next year.”

As for Saturday. Jenna’s goals are to go in the low 20s in the 100, go 1:25 in the 400, roll close to 3 minutes in the 800 and throw further than 16-1.5 in the shot put. Each wheelchair shot put competitor throws from a bolted down chair around the throwing circle area.

Next year, Southeast eighth grader Emily Gellatly, who has spina bifida, will join Fesemyer.

“She’s come to some practices, tried the chair out,” Cindy said. “She’s going to be competing next year. She’ll actually have a teammate.”

For the 2014 state meet, Jenna hopes she isn’t the only girl competing.

“When I came into wheelchair racing, that was my goal – to inspire people, show other kids they could be doing this too,” she said. “This isn’t just for one girl. At the state meet, they want to fill that full heat of eight girls and eight boys. That’s going to grow, but it’s going to take some time. I hope that atmosphere really spread the word that this is a new event now.”