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Quadriplegic Athlete Takes On First Half Marathon

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James Sa

Last month on June 4, 2017, James Sa took his place on the starting line of the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon. It was his first half marathon but not his first race: on July 31, 2011, as a college student, Sa took part in an obstacle course that after an unfortunate accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

So how did Sa, six years later, take on a half marathon as a quadriplegic? After finding the will to push through the disability, Sa discovered the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation, which—along with a grant from Toyota—supplied James with the support and the gear he needed to train for the race, including a high-tech, lightweight sports wheelchair to make it easier to navigate San Diego’s hills.

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Tools, however, are only as good as those who wield them. Through CAF, Sa found various new opportunities to play sports once again, including wheelchair rugby, the physicality of which he instantly found himself attracted to.

Eventually, and as his athleticism grew, Sa’s mind turned to endurance sports and he once again started to think about crossing finish lines. With the help of Toyota and CAF, he began to train for the half marathon. He was determined to finish it in one hour and thirty minutes.

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But another trial awaited him in the race. When a group of runners didn’t hear him coming down the hill, Sa was forced to take too sharp of a turn and crashed his wheelchair at the 12-mile marker, with just 10 minutes left to make his goal.

After a marshal helped restore his wheelchair to an upright position, Sa, now with a bloody shoulder and a bent wheel, didn’t hesitate to get back on his way. He crossed the finish line one hour and 34 minutes after the starting gun.

Today, Sa helps mentor other wheelchair athletes and uses his story to inspire them to focus on strength and ability rather than disability.