Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A PARA-ROWING STAR EMERGES | Blake Haxton Takes Aim at 2016 Paralympics

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A PARA-ROWING STAR EMERGES | Blake Haxton Takes Aim at 2016 Paralympics

Article excerpt

ROAD TO RIO

Blake Haxton ensured that Team USA would have a spot in the arm and shoulders division of the 2016 Paralympics when he placed fifth in the event at the 2015 World Rowing Championships last summer.

This week in Sarasota, the 25-year-old para-rower competes for the chance to be the athlete in the boat when the Paralympic Games commence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this September.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Haxton's Road to Rio began. Haxton did not spend his childhood dreaming of this -- of Paralympic glory and adaptive rowing competition, which differs in some ways from the Olympic Games standard.

As a young rower growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Haxton remembers looking toward the Olympic Games as the pinnacle of an endurance sport with no professional league or flashy sponsorships. So he stored away Olympic dreams, continued the sport and made plans to row collegiately.

At 18, his plans dissolved rapidly and his life took an irreversible turn. Then a high school senior, Haxton went to the hospital for leg pain, learned he had contracted a flesh-eating virus and fell into a coma as his organs shut down. Doctors eventually amputated both his legs.

Defying those who did not expect he would live, Haxton started a long recovery and regrouped, beginning school as a freshman at Ohio State University. Though he was well acquainted with para-rowing, where racing shells are modified in certain ways to accommodate physical disabilities, he wanted no part of the sport.

Even now, he acknowledges that the arm and shoulders division of para-rowing is not the same sport he fell in love with as a child. Unlike the sliding seats found in traditional racing shells, Haxton's seat is fixed, his torso strapped in place. He cannot drive with his legs, so his power comes from his arms and shoulders, making his event much more about power and strength than the finesse and strategy of typical rowing events.

Yet, during his first year of law school, when he began rowing as a means of exercise, Haxton became reacquainted with a talent that is undeniable. …

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