WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.
Making the U.S. Paralympic Team has long been a goal for Alexa Halko, who has aspired to compete for the United States since she started playing wheelchair basketball at age seven through the Greater Oklahoma Disabled Sports Association.
Now the 16-year-old from Williamsburg will represent Team USA in the Sept. 7-18 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She will be the youngest female representing the U.S. in Rio and currently holds the world record in the women’s T34 800-meter race.
Despite Halko’s athletic success, she has yet to compete on the world stage of the Paralympics. For her first Games, she says the greatest challenge will be calming her own mind.
“It’s taken a lot of mental training to get myself ready for the whole experience,” she said. “I’ve been working to calm my nerves, to plan out what I’m going to do in the race, so that I’m not thinking about it, so that it’s second nature.”
Halko suffers from cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that limits muscle coordination, balance and body movement. The T34 paralympic class in which she competes is reserved for seated athletes with athetosis, ataxia or hypertonia, all conditions that limit lower body mobility.
A rising junior at Jamestown High School, Halko credits her growth as an athlete to Lafayette Cross-Country Coach Drew Mearns, who created a practice system that allows Halko to train with other top distance runners in the region, like Tabb’s Lindsey Blanks and Lafayette’s Delaney Savedge.
“Alexa’s participation with some of the best girls on the Peninsula who are not Paralympians has been a real benefit for our girls, and I know both socially and otherwise for Alexa,” Mearns said. “It’s really one of the challenges that super elite athletes have in running, and probably doubly for Paralympics. You don’t get a chance to be around many of your equals.”
Yet despite years of training, Halko will have her work cut out for her in Rio. On Sept.10, she will be competing in the 100-meter dash. Four days later, she will compete in the 400-meter and on Sept. 16 she will compete in the 800-meter. The T34 800-meter is Halko’s best event and she intends to keep it that way.
“I’m preparing the most for the 800-meter because I have the most success in that race right now,” she said. “That one is the most nerve-racking for me. The others are nerve-racking, too, but this one is big, because there’s a lot that has to do with your state of mind. You’re moving in and out of lanes. It’s more challenging.”
Regardless of whether she places in the 800-meter, Halko says she’s excited to be out on the track, performing at the highest level.
“I just want to race as hard and fast as I can when I’m in Rio,” she said. “Whatever happens after that, we’ll just have to see. I’m just gonna go out there and race.”