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Schlecht breaks records, barriers alike

Only a couple of months into his first season as a track and field athlete Cody Schlecht qualified for the Class A state meet. That's a pretty impressive start for anybody. When he got to the state meet, though, he was forced to change the way he threw the discus and the shot put. After a couple of warm-up throws from a seated position, Schlecht recorded his first official throw of 18-05.50, a state record.

Now, Schlecht is Middleton, Wisconsin for the 2017 Adaptive Sports Junior National meet that started Monday and is scheduled to go until Friday. The 16-year-old has spina bifida, a spinal condition that often forces those afflicted to a wheelchair. Even those that are able to walk tend to do so with the help of braces or crutches. Schlecht is able to walk and he doesn't let his leg braces get in the way of an athletic career.

A fan of sports, Schlecht, who is homeschooled, never imagined competing in track and field. It wasn't until his friend, Ty, told him about the chance to go to nationals that piqued his interest.

"Other years I didn't really know I could make it to nationals and compete against other kids from other states," said Schlecht, who competed in the spring as part of Central Minnesota Christian School's track and field team. "Competing without the chance to go to nationals didn't really interested me at the time."

This trip to compete at the national level is unique for Schlecht in more than just the quality of competition. It will also be one of the few times he's competed against a group, period. At many high school meets during the spring season, he found himself the only competitor in the wheelchair division for the shot put, discus, and 100-meter dash. It wasn't until the state meet that Schlecht was able to compete against a larger number of participants and even that had it's own difficulties.

Throughout the entire season, Schlecht threw the discus and shot put from a standing position, not unlike the way many of the able-bodied athletes compete. Footwork, in fact, is one of the more important aspects of the process and it's a facet that he has spent hours practicing. When he arrived at the state meet, however, he was told he needed to throw from a seated position. A coach of a fellow competitor allowed Schlecht to borrow their throwing chair, a contraption that straps his legs to the piping of the seat. Though new to him, it didn't slow Schlecht down as he shattered the state record with his first toss in the discus and took fourth place in the shot put.

"It's been a real ride," said Wanda Schlecht, Cody's mom.

From the moment Cody decided to join track and field, Wanda knew there would be challenges along the way.

"Anytime there's a handicapped person in an able-bodied sport, there's a learning curve," Wanda Schlecht said. "It was something I thought was way out there but once we started investigating how it would work it started to seem doable."

He became fully invested, as well. On weekends, Cody and Wanda make the trip to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis to train with a coach who specializes in athletes with disabilities. During the season, Schlecht worked with CMCS head coach Becky Graves and throwing coach Travis Vander Woude.

"Cody is an incredibly hard worker," said Vander Woude, who just completed his first season as the team's throwing coach. "He's not necessarily just in it to win. He's more interested in pushing himself to be the best that he can be."

Despite being in his own division, Schlecht often practiced with other CMCS throwers. Vander Woude said Schlecht's form needed to be "drastically different" but was always willing to take a different approach.

"The difference was maximizing the movement he has," Vander Woude said. "We just wanted to do whatever was going to give him the most velocity on his throws. There were lots of hurdles (this season) but he was always willing to roll with the punches. He showed up to practice every day ready to work hard and learn."

His hard work paid off at the state meet and continued at the national level as well. Wednesday, Schlecht was able to throw while standing at the national meet and set a new personal record of 47 feet in the discus throw. He also recorded a 19-08.00 in the shot put. His discus throw, which was good for XX place, was nearly eight full feet further than his previous best at the Section 3A meet in May.

"I was a bit more nervous for this one because I actually competed against a lot of others," Schlecht said. "It's a much bigger event but I try not to let that get to me too much. I always try my best and this meet is the same."

Friday, Schlecht will round out his time at the national meet with a 100-meter race.

Jake Schultz

Jake Schultz is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune, working his first job out of college. He graduated from St. John's University (CSB/SJU) in 2016 and is a baseball fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @StJake29. 

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