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High-jumper with one leg leaps big life challenges

June 10, 2012

LAKE CITY, Mich. — A.J. Swadling knows he’s an inspiration and maybe even a role model for people when they meet him.

He’s fine with it, too.

For the Lake City High School sophomore, it’s just another slice of life.

Get to know him a little bit, though, and he’s an inspiration because of his sense of humor, his outlook on life and a willingness to try anything.

He’s just one of the guys on Lake City’s track team and he’s a high jumper who happens to have one leg.

Swadling lost his right leg to cancer when he was 5 but doesn’t remember much about it now.

Instead, he’s more focused on being a 16-year old boy and doing the best he can.

“People shake my hand at every meet we’re at and tell me what I am doing is inspiring and how neat it is,” Swadling said.

“I’m just another person and I want to do the best I can.”

That best is getting Swadling somewhere when it comes to the high jump. He recorded a personal-best jump of 5-feet, 6-inches last week at the Lake City Invitational and now has his sights set on his big goal for the season.

“Hopefully, I can get 5-8,” Swadling said. “That would be cool.

“Without my friends, I wouldn’t have gotten this high, though. They help me out a lot. They tell me what I am doing so I can fix it the next jump and that helps me a lot.”

How Swadling got into track is pretty funny.

He transferred to Lake City in the eighth grade, made friends and it was those friends who started him in the direction of track.

“All my friends saw me jump over tables at basketball games and said I should do track,” Swadling laughed.

“I finally did it, I liked it and so I did it again.”

When Lake City boys’ track coach Sara Colecchio first met Swadling, she wasn’t sure where this whole idea was headed and admits she was a little apprehensive.

“He came to my office to talk to me in private about being part of the track team,” she said.

“My first thought was, are we going to be able to find something for him to do? I wasn’t sure and I was worried. I didn’t want to set a kid up for failure.

“I thought maybe he could do our stats and be part of the team in that aspect.”

The two talked and came up with Swadling trying the high jump, long jump and discus.

The long jump quickly was out because Swadling couldn’t build up enough speed on the runway. He did do discus for a while and scored in the Trojans’ meets but struggled because he couldn’t counter-balance his upper body in the spin.

So Swadling focused on the high jump and kept getting better.

Colecchio was still worried, though, when Swadling began competing early last season as a freshman.

“I was worried last year . I was worried about how this was going to go,” she said.

“That worry was all for naught. I knew at the (Frankfort) Frostbite Invitational that there was nothing to worry about. Because of who he is, how hard he works and how he comes across, that he would be fine.”

Swadling had no high jump experience coming in so he learned everything from scratch — from the run-up, to the leap, to bending his back, to the leg kick at the end.

“I just went and jumped,” he said. “I worked with the coaches and my friends helped me out with my bend and how I am supposed to do it.”

Doing it, though, is obviously a little different for Swadling.

The high jump is very dependent on speed at its start to get the thrust needed to get over the bar.

For Swadling, building up speed is hard to do.

Instead, he starts much closer to the bar and hops toward it. From there, it’s strength in his left leg and a natural comprehension of what to do that gets him over the bar.

He’s also watched jumpers with one leg compete on the Internet to give him ideas.

“It’s easy for me to get up to the bar but when I’m in the air, I come down on the bar because I don’t have as much speed built up,” Swadling said.

“It’s harder, too, for me to move back further because I get more tired.”

Swadling has surpassed 5-2, 5-4 and finally 5-6 last week. He’s scored, too, for Lake City in a pair of invitationals.

As the height of the bar goes up, making it or not isn’t going to deter Swadling from working harder to get better.

“I don’t get frustrated,” he said. “I just try to be positive because if I get frustrated, I’d probably do worse.

“I just do it for the fun and don’t get too upset about it.”

Colecchio said he’s just one of the boys.

“His classmates like having him around, he’s such a reliable kid, his grades are decent and he’s had to grow up quick because of things in his life but he’s risen to the challenge,” she said.

“I don’t think of him as the one-legged kid and no one on the team looks at him that way. He’s A.J.”

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Information from: Cadillac News, http://www.cadillacnews.com