Local school district's first-ever wheelchair athlete headed to state meet

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A disabled student is breaking new ground in the Midway Independent School District and proving it takes heart, not full use of your legs, to be a true athlete.

Midway HS Junior Joshua Parrish practices for the 2019 UIL Track & Field State Meet. (Photo by Clint Webb)

Josh Parrish, 17, a junior at Midway High School, is the district's first student-athlete to compete in a wheelchair, and now he's headed to state.

"You see everybody else doing soccer, doing track, and you know most of this stuff other kids can do but you want to do it close to their way," said Parrish. "Sometimes, you have to find ways to do it the way that 'you' can do it."

Parrish has level three Spina bifida.

"For me, it affects my ankles down," said Parrish.

It's difficult for him to walk, so he uses a wheelchair at school, and, for the last two years, he's been using it after school to participate in track and field.

At first, he says, some of his teammates and competitors thought having a machine made it easier for him.

"You seem a lot faster when they see you on there with the motion, but it's not like that, you have to put in work," said Parrish.

Parrish says it's most difficult at the starting line, with the chair always putting him a few seconds behind.

However, he says being in the chair motivates him to meet his competitors at the finish line.

"It motivates me to do more than everybody else," said Parrish.

He doesn't have to be in a disabled league.

Thanks to equipment modifications like specialized chairs, most of the time, Parrish can compete in regular meets with everyone else.

He's currently competing in the 100 and 400 meter dash and shot put.

"It has been changed, it has been accommodated, and it's my job to get you throwing as far as you can," said Cion Hicks, shot put and discus coach for Midway ISD.

Hicks is a former shot put star at Baylor University.

This is her first year coaching a student with a disability, and she admits, it was intimidating at first.

"I know how to coach shot put, but I knew how to coach shot put for an athlete that has full capabilities, not one that might be restricted," she said. "I just really had to figure out how to do that for him."

She said she started doing research on how best to coach him.

"I had to understand leverage, I had to understand momentum." said Hicks.

Parrish's track coach said, in the beginning, he made the mistake of training him differently than others on the team.

"He's no different than any other kid, he wants to be taught, he wants to be coached, and he wants to do well just like all the other track athletes," said Aaron Thomas, Head Boys Track Coach for Midway ISD.

Parrish has done so well, he's going to the State UIL Track Meet May 10 at the University of Texas in Austin.

"He's good," said Thomas. "He gets a lot of attention when he starts doing things because they realize that if he's able to do it with his disability, they should be able to do it being able-bodied kids and doing very well also."

Hicks said Parrish has not only been an inspiration to other student-athletes, but also to her.

"It's inspirational for myself because I've never had any injuries, and to be able to humble myself and put myself in the same shoes as him - it's just been fun, it's been amazing," said Hicks. "People look up to him, and I think that's something that he's started to realize and it gives him a little confidence, a little chip on his shoulder, and that's nice to see."

While he's the only one of his kind in his district right now, Parrish and his coaches hope it won't stay that way and want to expand the program.

"From here on, we'll probably have a whole bunch of kids rolling in and trying this out since we have it here," said Parrish.

Parrish says he also has a physical therapist to help him, in addition to a Paralympian racer.

Saul Mendoza, a seven-time Paralympian in wheelchair racing, recently visited Parrish and equipped him with a new racing chair for state.

Parrish says his ultimate goal is to compete in the Paralympic Games one day.

While he's competed against non-disabled athletes for most of the season, at the state meet, Parrish will be competing in the wheelchair division.