Monday, October 23, 2017
Medford's Luke Johnston practices throwing the discus Wednesday morning at Medford High School. In his first year in the wheelchair division, the sophomore has qualified for the shot put and discus after winning Section 1-A titles. (SCT/Josh Zimmer)

The Lone Tiger

Medford's Luke Johnston qualifies for state track meet in wheelchair shot put and discus division

For Luke Johnston, every day is about embracing the challenge that life presents in front of you with an open mind.

Despite having a tragic life event that would nearly kill the competitive drive of most, he has continued to show up to practice and work for nearly the last three years at the shot put and discus for the Medford High School track and field team.

Now, the sophomore will represent the Tigers on the biggest stage in the state.

After winning both the wheelchair shot put and discus throw at the Section 1A tournament on Thursday, June 1, Johnston will be heading to Hamline University for the 2017 Minnesota State Track and Field meet, in just his first year of qualifying for the event.

“I didn’t think a lot of it at first, but it’s really cool now that I’m able to do it,” added Johnston after Wednesday morning. “I can’t compete with the other people that well.”

In fact, Johnston’s journey to the state tournament started at the end of last season. Head throwing coach Jerome Johannes mentioned that when the 2016 season ended, he started asking around and making calls to the MSHSL to truly find out if Johnston – despite not needing the use of a wheelchair – would be eligible to compete in the division.

The reason for attempting to find out whether he qualifies or not is because Johnston has a disability, but doesn’t require the use of a wheelchair.

When Johnston was 11 years old, he had a brain hemorrhage that popped causing temporarily paralyzing the right side of his body from the shoulder down. After months of therapy, he was able to recover some of the basic motor skills such as moving his arm and his leg.

However, the Medford sophomore noted that despite the efforts of his physical therapy, there is still some weakness present in the leg, creating what is called in the medical profession as a “foot drop.” With that disability, movement skills such as planting, sticking and even driving off that foot become that much more difficult due to the muscles in the leg having a delayed response to fire, if they fire at all.

“My brain can’t send the message to my foot to pick up, so I can’t really walk right,” he added.

After receiving the ruling from the league earlier this year, it’s been nothing but success for the sophomore as Johannes noted that he has marked a personal record in every meet he has competed in. Even Johnston noted that the success this season has been a surprise.

“At pretty much every meet, I’ve made a personal record,” he added. “It was new to me this year so every week I just kept getting farther.”

Whether he’s in full gear as an offensive lineman on the football team in the fall, or sitting on a stool in the throwing circle during the spring, he’s out there.

He noted that he may not be the best and that’s perfectly fine with him. For Johnston, it’s more about being out there with his friends and teammates. Johannes noted that it’s great for the MSHSL to have this division.

“It’s nice to have his opportunity so that it is an even field, but he never uses that as a crutch,” he added. “He would be out here throwing shot and disc without the chair if it wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t matter.”

Johannes noted that the event requires much more core and upper body strength and that much is depending on your technique. With that comes a focus in the little things, such as making sure that the movement and track of your arm while you prepare to throw are at just the right angle. However, no matter how long the day might have been, Johnston always comes ready to work.

“That’s Luke,” he added. “He goes through practice, never misses a practice and I have never heard one complaint from him ever in track or football. He never lets his disability define who he is.” And he has fun doing it.”

The success this season has served as motivation for Johnston, noting that when his time at Medford High School is over, he wants to leave a mark.

“I want to break them by my senior year,” he added.

Johnston will compete in the Section 1-A preliminaries Friday at 3 p.m. 

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Kasson, MN 55944

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