In 2005, Casey Followay attended an Adaptive Sports Day organized by the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, a moment that forever changed his life. “I grew up being around able-bodied people, so I didn’t know anything like that existed,” he said. “From that day forward, it changed my outlook on life. I had better self-esteem and then knew that I could accomplish anything.”
Followay, who has spina bifida, a congenital spine defect that left his legs paralyzed, was introduced to various sports there, including wheelchair racing, basketball and tennis. He immediately latched onto racing.
In 2006, when he moved back to Ohio with his family, they came to the realization that there weren’t many adaptive sports opportunities in their area, with the exception of a local sled hockey program. “I added that one to the plethora of sports I got into as well.” But he was able to continue his passion and interest in wheelchair racing. In fact, that year he found himself setting a national record in the 60 meter dash at the National Junior Disability Championships, which was only his third track meet. He still hold that record today.
Two pivotal moments happened in 2009. First, with the continued void of adaptive sports offerings in his hometown of Wooster, Ohio, his family started Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio (ASPO), a chapter of Disabled Sports USA that primarily serves the northeastern part of the state. His mom Lisa is the organization’s executive director. This year, ASPO is celebrating its tenth anniversary.
Second, as a seventh grader at that time, Followay was the first student-athlete in the State of Ohio, who used a racing wheelchair, to join a school’s track team. The first state meet in 2013 would see nine boys and one girl compete in wheelchair racing. Since then, 78 student athletes have done so. “I never thought that I would be a pioneer of the sport…furthermore, I never imagined becoming a 7-time high school state-champion and record-holder,” he recently reflected on social media. Followay continues to hold the OHSAA state, Divison I and Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium records in the 100m and 800m.
Currently a sophomore at Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, working towards an associate’s degree in graphic arts, Followay is taking a break from school to focus on his athletic pursuits. “The goal is Tokyo,” he said, referring to the 2020 Paralympic Summer Games. He trains six days a week, spending time each day on the track or on the road for cardio. In addition, he adds weightlifting two days a week either before or after his racing workouts. He focuses on his diet, making sure he takes in a lot of protein, fruits, and vegetables. “I also make sure to get plenty of rest between workouts and a good night sleep.”
Although he did compete in distance races in high school, such as the 800 meter, his primary race is the 100 meter. “It is explosive and you’re trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible.” He is also focusing on the 400, trying to improve his performance at more than one event. “I want to be one of the fastest in the world,” he said. “I’d like to be a world record holder in my classification.”
The 22 year-old was named to Disabled Sports USA’s (DSUSA) Elite Team back in 2016, but earlier this year received an #AbilityEquipped grant to purchase adaptive sports equipment, namely a new racing chair. “This type of equipment is expensive. I am very honored to be involved with DSUSA and grateful for the generosity. This will help me achieve the goals I set when I was young.”
Leading up to the 2020 Games, Followay was named to the Team USA roster of athletes that will compete at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. “This is a step,” he said, “Baby steps, but we’re going in the right direction.” He’s not sure what to expect from the experience in Peru. “I have the honor and privilege of competing internationally on behalf of my country. It will be cool to just be at the track.”
So you never know where opportunities will lead. Fourteen years after that one adaptive sports day in a rehabilitation hospital, Followay is pursuing his dreams. “Adaptive sports changed my life. I have always been an athlete, but did not have a way to express that until I was introduced to adaptive sports. It enables me to be competitive, live a healthy lifestyle and meet other people with similar challenges.”
Note: You can follow Followay on facebook at www.facebook.com/CaseyRacer