FLEETWOOD — Nathan DeWitt has two simple goals for Qatar.
One, he wants to make the finals. His second goal?
“Just to go out there and have fun.”
And if the 24-year-old wheelchair racer’s work ethic and attitude are any indications, he’s a shoe-in to achieve both.
DeWitt, a Fleetwood resident, is one of 35 athletes selected to compete at the 2015 International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Qatar from Oct. 21 to 31.
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Qatar will put the cap on what’s been a hectic year for DeWitt. This year, he’s competed in Australia, Florida and Switzerland, where he set personal bests in six out of nine races.
DeWitt says his success in Switzerland can be attributed to the hard work he did in the off-season with a redeveloped training program that focuses more on building muscle in the gym.
And training for Qatar has been intense – six days a week, with a few of those days being ‘double’ workouts – one workout in the gym and one in the chair.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s fun,” said the soft-spoken Johnson Heights Secondary grad. “You get into a groove and a routine and when I don’t do it, it feels out of place – you don’t know what to do with your time.”
DeWitt and his twin brother were born three months premature, weighing less than three pounds each. When he was three days old, he was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy and has had 19 shunt revisions, each one life-threatening.
DeWitt started his athletic career playing sledge hockey with the B.C. Eagles. When he was 15, the Centre for Child Development – where his physiotherapy took place – suggested he try track.
“I jumped in the chair and I pushed it around one day and I liked the speed,” he said. “And I kind of picked it up from there.”
It didn’t take long for coaches from B.C. Wheelchair Sports and Wheelchair Race Series to notice his talent. Seeing his potential, the coaches urged him to train with an eye on the 2012 Paralympics.
“I decided to give it a try and it just kind of started from there.”
And he’s glad he did. Because he made it to the 2012 Paralympics in London and still considers it the highlight of his career.
His goal in London – like Qatar – was to make a final. He made finals in the 100M and only missed the 200M final by half a second.
“I had no idea I missed the 200M by only half a second until I got home and read it in the newspaper,” DeWitt said. “But I was still happy with my results. I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do.”
DeWitt, who was a quiet, more hesitant person before people around him spotted his potential and pushed him to become a paralympic athlete, has advice for young people who may have a disability and lack the confidence to push themselves to try something new.
“Get out there and experience the world from a different point of view,” he said. “You may not know the kind of abilities you have.
“You might be surprised and find your hidden talent.”