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‘It’s not just for me’: This Maine high schooler is fighting to race at cross country regionals in his wheelchair

If Jonathan Schomaker isn’t allowed to race at cross nation regionals this yr, he’s nonetheless going to go to the occasion. Instead of competing together with his workforce, he’ll be on the sidelines, hoping the officers who excluded him get a have a look at his all-terrain wheelchair.

Jonathan is a 15-year-old sophomore at Maine’s Leavitt Area High School in Turner who has cherished cross-country since center faculty. His father, Jon, mentioned he got here residence from one in all his first days of seventh grade, flyer in hand, and mentioned he was going to have a go on the sport.

“I figured we’d let him give it a try,” Jon mentioned.

Cross nation is troublesome sufficient. But it’s made even more durable for Jonathan, whose pontocerebellar hypoplasia leaves him wheelchair-bound. Basically, there’s a gap the place Jonathan’s cerebellum needs to be. When he was round 6 months previous, docs advised his dad and mom he would by no means stroll, speak, and even get away from bed.

Through years of varied therapies, Jonathan realized to talk and even stroll a little bit bit. But regardless of his progress, he’s nonetheless generally barred from sure actions — akin to competing in cross nation regionals.

‘It’s not just for me’: This Maine high schooler is fighting to race at cross country regionals in his wheelchair
Jonathan together with his workforce. —Jon Schomaker

According to the Maine Principals’ Association, Jonathan’s wheelchair is the difficulty. The MPA is the group that had the ultimate say final yr in Jonathan being saved from competing at regionals, regardless that he races together with his workforce at each different meet. The group’s stance is that Jonathan’s chair could possibly be a security hazard to different runners. Jonathan says he’s by no means brought about an issue, and Jon or a volunteer all the time runs with him simply in case.

This yr, the MPA is contemplating permitting Jonathan within the race. MPA officers mentioned Friday morning that the group expects to have a call prepared earlier than the weekend.

If Jonathan is allowed to race at regionals, he could be setting precedent for different disabled athletes who won’t even see cross nation as a risk, he says.

“The way I see it, it’s not just for me. It’s just not for my team,” he mentioned. “It’s for everybody. If people with different disabilities want to do cross country, then great.”

Sometimes racing is excruciatingly sluggish for Jonathan. Hills are troublesome. But Jon mentioned there are few obstacles that his son can’t deal with from his all-terrain chair, which might tackle mud and even seashores. (“That thing is his first love,” Jon mentioned of the chair.)

‘It’s not just for me’: This Maine high schooler is fighting to race at cross country regionals in his wheelchair
Jonathan with John Rackley, the inventor of the Renegade, the all-terrain wheelchair he makes use of. —Jon Schomaker

Jon mentioned nobody on the MPA has really watched Jonathan race, so they may not perceive that his chair is provided to deal with the programs.

“They’re thinking in their minds, ‘OK, well he’s a kid in a wheelchair. A wheelchair can’t go in the dirt.’ But that’s not true,” he mentioned.

In quick: Jonathan can race nearly anyplace an able-bodied runner can, Jon mentioned.

In its technique of deciding whether or not he can race at regionals, that are on Oct. 26, the MPA is contemplating creating a distinct course for Jonathan to race — alone.

“Think about that,” Jon mentioned. “You’ve already discriminated against my son, now you’re going to add segregation?”

Jon mentioned that resolution is unacceptable. He sees it as a method for the MPA to pat itself on the again for inclusivity with out really making any modifications.

This isn’t the primary time Jonathan has been discriminated in opposition to, both, Jon mentioned. At his elementary faculty, the playground wasn’t as much as ADA requirements, so the lecturers would simply park Jonathan on the sting of the playground or subsequent to the sandbox to look at different children have enjoyable.

When Jonathan began taking the bus, one faculty bus would come down his road to choose up each scholar apart from him, Jon mentioned, after which a separate one would come to get Jonathan — even by way of the primary bus was geared up to deal with a wheelchair.

“We have to push to get anything done,” Jon mentioned. “We have to push for everything.”

On Thursday, Jonathan was anxiously awaiting the MPA’s resolution on his cross nation destiny.

“I’m kind of stressed about it, because I mean like — ah! I want to have the decision right now,” he mentioned.

If the MPA bars Jonathan from the race once more or makes him race on a separate course with out the opposite runners, Jon mentioned the Schomakers are ready to take authorized motion. They’re already involved with Disability Rights Maine.

“It’s time to make this happen one way or another,” he mentioned.

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