Quadriplegic Athlete Trains for First Half Marathon

On July 31, 2011, the starting gun fired at an obstacle course race in Michigan, setting off the cheers of more than 40,000 racers. One of those racers was James Sa, a college student who was hyped to display his athletic prowess on the challenge ahead of him. A newcomer to the sport, he was looking forward to his training paying off in a finisher medal.

But James didn’t cross the finish line that day. Instead, he was carried out of the course in an ambulance, the result of a dive into a mud obstacle towards the end of the race. Unconscious and face down, several waves of contestants trampled over his limp body before he was finally rescued. James was resuscitated on site before being transported to the emergency room, where he endured multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for months. When he was finally released, he was paralyzed from the neck down.

Devastated, James thought his life was over – but little did he know, a new one was just beginning.

The San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) offered James the means to regain a new kind of mobility and identity as an athlete. The organization, which facilitates easier access to sport for people with physical challenges, introduced James to a variety of opportunities to play sports once more. James was instantly attracted to the physicality of wheelchair rugby, and developed a strong passion for the sport. Without realizing it, James shifted his focus from the depression of his disabilities to the new possibilities of competing as a wheelchair athlete.

Eventually, James’ curiosity over the endurance world returned, and his mind started to think about crossing finish lines once again.

Through support from Toyota and CAF, James began training for a half marathon. It wasn’t easy to adjust to an entirely new technique and discipline – but “easy” was never a consideration for this strong, determined athlete.

For more of James Sa’s story, click here.