Paralympic medalist Hunter Woodhall excited to compete at NBNI

by Steve Underwood

Hunter Woodhall, a double medalist at age 17 in last summer’s Rio Paralympic Games, has this week entered the 2017 New Balance Nationals Indoor (March 10-12, The Armory Track and Field Center, New York) to compete against the nation’s best long sprinters.

“I’m very excited for this championship,” Woodhall said Friday.  “My hard work is paying off and I’m being recognized as an athlete, which has always been my goal.  I want to go out there and show people what I can do, regardless of my situation, and I am not intimidated by any of my competition – although I have great respect for each of them.”

Now a senior at Syracuse High School in Utah, Woodhall won silver in the 200 meters (21.12 seconds) and bronze (PR 46.70) in the 400 meters in Rio.  He competed in the T44 classification and was one of the youngest athletes to toe the line.  Earlier in the meet, he had anchored the U.S. 4x100 team to an apparent gold medal, only to see the victory dashed by an exchange zone violation earlier in the relay.  But that only steeled his resolve for the individual races.  The mayor of Syracuse subsequently declared September 15 as “Hunter Woodhall Day.”

Woodhall was born with fibular hemimelia, a congenital defect in which the fibulas in his lower legs did not form, leading to the amputation of his legs below the knee at the age of 11 months.  He was fitted with prosthetic legs and, growing up, began to participate in multiple sports.  Later, he and his family invested in carbon fiber “blades” for running and Woodhall eventually joined the Syracuse track team under Coach Roger Buhrley.  With time and hard work, he went from being a contributor to a rising national-class star.

Throughout his athletic career, Woodhall has competed against “able-bodied” athletes at the UHSAA level and beyond.  Last spring, he was the Utah 5A state 400 champ with his then-PR of 47.63 and 3rd in the 200 at 22.26 after a 22.01 PR in qualifying.  Then he got another great taste of national class prep competition at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, where he was 3rd in the 400 at 48.06, with the summer then filled with preparation for Rio.

This winter, Woodhall has lowered his indoor 200 and 400 PRs to 22.15 and 48.15, respectively.  He stands #4 in the country in the 400 (all tracks, all conditions).  While the tracks in Utah are generally oversized and unbanked, Woodhall has raced on banked tracks at Idaho State and Boise State (also Idaho) in previous seasons.  He will be racing on the Idaho State track at the Mountain State Games today (Feb. 10) and the Simplot Games next weekend as he prepares for New York.

The opportunity to potentially race talents like ’16 NBNO 400 champ (and new 300-meter record setter) Tyrese Cooper is something Woodhall looks forward to with relish.

“I got to race with Tyrese Cooper at Great Southwest last year, and he’s an amazing talent,” he said.  “I am trying to become the best athlete I can be, and having guys like Tyrese and others around me is the best way to push myself in my eyes.”

Hunter is the son of Steve and Barb Woodhall.  He also serves as an ambassador for the Shriners Hospital for Children.

Photos courtesy of Nate Hoffman (top photo), Kevin Hansen (middle photo) and Hunter Woodhall (head shot).

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