The Cleburne High School 4 X 800 girls relay team came away from the Texas Relays with a memorable moment that has inspired a new attitude.
At the national meet held at The University of Texas, Lady Jackets Chloe Reed, Maggie Marshall, Hannah Marion and Samantha Moreno crossed paths with University of Arkansas sprinter Hunter Woodhall, who was among the college competitors in attendance. Woodhall is the first double amputee to earn a NCAA D1 scholarship in track and field.
“He had just finished an event and was walking around with his girlfriend, Tara Davis, who competes for The University of Texas,” Marion said. “We’ve all heard about him and follow him on Instagram and Youtube. I wanted to get a photo with him, and was trying to work up the courage when he came over and started talking to us.”
Woodhall was diagnosed at birth with a condition known as fibular hemimelia, in which the fibular bones never form. He had only nine toes and one of his feet curved inward. At the age of one, doctors amputated both of his legs below the knee. Three months later he received his first pair of prosthetics.
As a senior at Utah’s Syracuse High School, Woodhall broke the state record in the 400 meters. Now a sophomore in the Razorbacks track program, he also competes for TEAM USA and is preparing for the World Para Athletics Championships, following a silver medal finish in 2016 as the youngest competitor in attendance.
Marshall, who has seen Woodhall compete at an indoor meet, describes the encounter with the world-class athlete as most memorable.
“He is an inspiration—to me—to everyone,” she said. “Getting to meet him is definitely a special memory for me. In January, I got to see him run in the sprint medley relay and the 400. It’s so cool to see how fast he is. He’s a top runner at a top school. He shows you that with hard work and determination, nothing can stop you from becoming what you want to be—in his case, one of the best athletes in the nation.”
“I was amazed at his speed,” Marion said. “He is so inspiring. He makes you realize that on your worst day, you can push through whatever you are dealing with—soreness, an injury—and it will be worth it. He has proved that giving up is not an option.”
“He makes me realize I can’t complain,” Reed said. “He makes me not want to give up.”
Woodhall has often been quoted as saying “They told me I would never walk, so I learned to run instead.” His average time in the 400 meters is 47 seconds.
“He just goes up and does what he needs to do,” Marion said. “He has nothing to prove—he just does what he loves. You can tell he likes to talk to kids. I have a feeling I will be telling my own kids someday that I met this amazing athlete.”
Marshall, who has battled injuries as a distance runner in cross country and track, said Woodhall serves, for her, as an example of what perseverance can do.
“For Hunter Woodhall, there are walls that get in the way of doing what he loves,” she said. “But what he has achieved shows that as long as you strive and have the mindset to persevere, you can push through those walls.”
Girls Head Track Coach Patty Foster said the chance encounter with Woodhall was a teaching moment for her athletes.
“We all watched him run,” Foster said. “Everyone in the stands was talking about him. Our girls were warming up when he came by. This was such a good lesson, and a great moment to meet a gentleman whose whole goal was to run. It’s an amazing thing to see. Nothing slowed him down. He ran the 4 X 4 as the anchor. He literally started 20 meters behind the runner ahead of him and finished 80 meters ahead of everyone.”
“Here’s a young kid with so much ahead,” she said. “He shows our kids—all of us-- that we may have issues and circumstances, but we can do what we set our minds to. He had a great conversation with the kids and it was great for them to see him compete. He is humble, but also a very proud Razorback. I hope he knows how much he inspires others.”
Foster says taking student athletes to a major event like the Texas Relays can lead to inspiring moments that last long after the race is over.
“I want to see my kids achieve new personal records,” Foster said. “In doing that, no matter how they place, they can walk away and feel good about themselves. That happened for many of our 18 students who competed at the Texas Relays. They can take what they have achieved this year, and their experiences in Austin, with them into District.”
“Competing at the Texas Relays can inspire kids to go to college,” she said. “It also inspires them to use their talents. They don’t often realize their talents to the fullest until they come here and see those college athletes competing—on the same track that they just ran.”
“That experience can lead them to wonder ‘what if I could do that?’” Foster said. “At the Texas Relays they warm up with college athletes. They see the number one high school teams in the state and nation. For many of our students, they see for the first time that with dedication and hard work, they too could be a college athlete.”
Qualifying for the national meet was a goal Marion set as a freshman competing on the JV team.
“My goal was to improve, to get better and to get on Varsity,” she said. “I was overjoyed when we qualified for the Texas Relays in the 4 X 800. When we walked into the stadium, it was so big. Coach Foster had to remind us it was the very same size as the track we run on.”
“There were all these D1 schools there, breaking records left and right,” Marion said. “It was insane. To be in the presence of all that greatness was amazing—and very humbling.”
That’s the story Foster hopes to hear from all her students.
“I want them to see what’s out there,” she said. “I am so grateful I got to go to college and run track, which let me see other places. I want that for our kids, too.”
Following field events on Wednesday, Cleburne’s participation in the 14-5A District track meet continues on Friday, at Joshua High School. Those finishing with top placings will advance to the Area meet.
Four members of the Lady Jackets track team experienced a memorable moment at the Texas Relays when they met Hunter Woodhall, a member of the University of Arkansas track program and the first double amputee to earn a NCAA D1 scholarship in track and field. Pictured from left are Maggie Marshall, Samantha Moreno, Woodhall, Chloe Reed, University of Texas women’s track member Tara Davis and Hannah Marion. (Courtesy Photo)