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Paralympic hopeful Sam Winter has eyes on Paris

Submitted Photo Local track athlete Sam Winter hopes to qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, France.

North Dakota can stake its claim to having produced many athletes who have seen tremendous success in their professional sporting careers.

Roger Maris, who moved to the Peace Garden State when he was five years old, would go on to have an All-Star-caliber baseball career with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Athletics.

Twin Olympic hockey players Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, natives of Grand Forks, helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea, as well as silver medals in 2014 and 2010.

Up-and-coming local track and field star Sam Winter hopes to soon see his named etched in North Dakota state lore alongside the greats.

Winter, a 16-year-old living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, has been traveling the country since 2018 competing in adaptive track and field events with his eye on eventually qualifying for the United States Paralympic team.

Just this year, Winter has competed at the Gateway Games in St. Louis, Desert Challenge in Arizona, and the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma. He plans to compete in the Endeavor Games in Fort Wayne, Indiana June 24-26, and will later take part in Junior Nationals in Colorado July 17-23. The lack of sanctioned events in North Dakota this year has made competing more difficult, but not impossible.

Winter is also a patient at the Minot Center for Pediatric Therapy, where he receives help with speech and language therapy.

“We work with children and teenagers with different types of abilities,” Speech Language Pathologist and MCPT owner Kylee Geer said. “We provide speech therapy and occupational therapy, and there are a range of kids who come in needing some help with communication needs or learning different skills for participating successfully in their days. Things like social skills, sensory processing, just a real wide variety of areas are addressed.”

Winter, who has been living in Carpio, North Dakota and homeschooling with his family for the last six years after moving from the Twin Cities, suffered a stroke when he was born, causing his CP and epilepsy. As a result of his disability, he encountered difficulties when playing sports with other kids growing up.

Enter Prairie Grit Adaptive Sports, a non-profit organization that helped transform his future.

“Prairie Grit is an adaptive sports program in Minot, and they started with sled hockey,” Sam’s mother, Becca, said. “And through that, we met some friends in Bismarck who were into adaptive track and field, and they introduced us to this world.”

Sam was hooked. He began participating in track and field events and has not stopped since, taking part in anything and everything he could, from the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter dashes to the long jump, javelin, discus and shot put.

“And if you asked him which is his favorite, he says all of them,” Becca added.

Sam has experienced overwhelming success in the years since he started competing, and he holds the national records for his age and classification in many of his events, his mom noted, records he has already begun breaking.

He competed at Desert Challenge in Arizona in 2019, for instance, recording a final time of 32.25 in the 200-meter dash. This year at the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma in early June? He trimmed his time down to 30.15.

Sam had recorded a time of 1:17.49 in the 400-meter dash in 2019, and shaved that mark down to 1:08.55 this summer as well, while also besting his 2019 finishes in the 100-meter dash (15.68 to 14.28), 800-meter dash (3:18.24 to 2:58.02), shot put (5.62 meters to 8.06), discus (15.96 meters to 20.99) and long jump (3.13 meters to 3.39).

“He loves all the events that he’s done,” Becca said. “He never liked sports before because he couldn’t do it right and he didn’t fit in. It was hard for him to understand how the games worked, or he couldn’t physically do what they were asking him to do, and so he had kind of given up on sports.”

“When he found out about adaptive sports, it literally changed his life,” she added. “It completely opened up a whole new world for him. He was able to play hockey, which was never a possibility before for him. He found a whole new set of friends, and with track, he had a very natural ability. He just loves it.”

The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic created scheduling issues that erased Sam’s chance at qualifying for the Paralympics in Tokyo later this summer, but he was on track to compete at the trials held in Minneapolis, Minnesota June 17-20.

He and his family remain confident in his chances to make the team in Paris, France three years from now. Sam became serious about his Paralympic training in 2019, and everything he’s done since has been done with his complete focus on realizing his dream.

“It would mean the world,” Becca said. “Just watching him, every event he gets to go to and watching him compete with kids or adults who are like him is unreal. It’s so amazing to watch. I always encourage anybody to go see an adaptive sporting event if they have an opportunity. These athletes are stunning. Their determination is unmatched. It’s just an amazing thing to get behind and support.”

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