His goal is to become a member of the USA Paralympic team and compete in the 2016 Olympics at Rio.
Based on his recent track and field accomplishments, Powell’s has a shot.
In the National Junior Disability Championships held July in Rochester, Minnesota, the rising Lassiter High School senior competed in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash and also took part in the shot put, discus and javelin.
Powell, 18, won all six gold medals in the under-20 division. He set a national record in the 100 with a time of 23.40 seconds, besting his Dixie Games time by 1.5 seconds.
He had just returned from the World Junior Wheelchair and Ambulatory Championships last week in Puerto Rico where he set personal bests in five of the six events he competed in. Currently, his top times are 23.1 in the 100, 45.8 in the 200 and 1:31 in the 400. In the field, his best throws are 13.1 meters in the javelin, 12.40 in the discus and 5.81 in the shotput.
“It’s been one of those things you can’t explain,” Powell said on competing in Puerto Rico. “I’ve been looking forward to doing this and to finally be able to do it is pretty amazing.”
And his ability can let him be a role model, and not just for disabled athletes.
“As I got older, I came to cope with (the cerebral palsy) and was meant to have this for a reason,” Powell said. “I never let it keep me from not wanting to do something. I don’t want to be that kid that relies on someone else. Having people around you for support helped as well.”
Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the brain, normally during pregnancy, or abnormal brain development.
The severity of Powell’s cerebral palsy is classified as moderate. While his speech is that of a normal person, he grew up unable to walk without the assistance of a of a crutch, a cane or another person. But as he grew older, walking became more difficult because his muscles couldn’t keep up with his growth spurt.
However, his physical condition hasn’t limited him from participating in wheelchair sports and he has been active in sports since he was 10. Looking back, he wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
Powell’s comfort zone is track and field. Using a special wheelchair equipped for racing, he learned to do short strokes at the start of the race to get moving before gradually going to longer strokes where his hands go all the way down to the bottom of the wheel.
He has a wheelchair exercise roller at home where he can work on both his strength and his strokes.
“The more pushes you make, the faster you’re going to go.” He said.
When he’s throwing, Powell said has to lean back as far as he can while holding onto a bar for balance, and then pull himself forward quickly to get more range and distance. He also said wheelchair athletes are taught to grunt to get more energy into their throw.
Powell, who also plays basketball for BlazeSports, trains regularly with the non-profit organization located in Decatur that specializes in the development of disabled athletes. He was encouraged to go to a BlazeSports summer camp by one of his doctors when he was 10. While there, he met his coaches and has stuck with it ever since.
“It’s opened a lot of doors for him and he really enjoys it,” his mother Pam Powell said.
With track season ending, Powell is in basketball mode and he gets asked frequently how wheelchair basketball differs from able-bodied basketball.
“It’s really the same game, it’s 5-on-5, 10-foot baskets, same free throw line, same 3-point line, same rules,” Powell said. “The only different rule in wheelchair basketball is that there is no double dribble.”
He said the positions are also the same, noting that the guards are better ball handlers and the inside players normally have the longer trunk and longer arms.
The legal wheelchair height for basketball is 21 inches, which still gives the taller players the advantage. And having longer arms is also a plus.
“If you have a height advantage in wheelchair basketball, you’re going to have a height advantage,” said Powell, a small forward, “because players aren’t going to be jumping up to get that ball.”
Fouls are also the same and players have to dribble every two pushes or will be called for traveling.
He’s already been named to all-tournaments teams in tournaments played all around the country. BlazeSports came in third in the National Wheelchair Tournament in Louisville, Ky.