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Jamestown High School sophomore and aspiring Paralympic athlete Alexa Halko competed in her first event during the U.S. Paralympic Trials at Irwin Belk Complex at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday.
Halko, who set a world record in the T34 800-meter in June, competed in the combination T34/T53 — a division reserved for Paralympic athletes with impaired body movement or control — 800-meter on her first day of competition in the U.S. Paralympic Trials.
As the only T34 athlete competing in the event — T34 is one of the smaller Paralympic classifications — Halko, who suffers from cerebral palsy, earned a third-place finish in a time of 2:01.83, which eclipsed her previous T34 800-meter world record time of 2:02.74.
The winner of the race was T53 athlete Chelsea McClammer, who finished the race in 1:54.46. Second place went to T53 athlete Shirley Reilly, who finished close behind McClammer in 1:54.66.
For Halko, competing against two faster opponents from a different classification was a benefit during what proved to be a tough race that concluded with the final 100 meters bolstered by a strong headwind.
“I felt like I was running against a wall,” Halko said of the last 100 meters of the race. “I was trying to chase these two girls in front of me. They were pretty far ahead of me. I was just looking at them and chasing them and trying to catch up to them. I feel like that really helped me.”
Halko didn’t have much time to let her new world record sink in, as officials rushed to her side and whisked her away for drug testing. And despite having to immediately fill out paperwork and go through physical examination after the race, the excitement of a new world record wasn’t lost on Halko.
“I was amazed because I just couldn’t believe that could happen when I felt so bad at the end [of the race],” she said. “It’s a wonderful surprise to have a world record on the first day. With that momentum, I hope the rest of my races are great, too.”
Halko will continue her hopeful road to the 2016 Rio Paralympics at 5:55 p.m. on Friday as she competes in the T34 100-meter. She will also compete in the T34 400-meter Saturday at 4:20 p.m before the U.S. Paralympic team is selected early Sunday.