To this day, Tobi Fawehinmi has no idea whose name was on that business card but he has never forgotten the message behind it.
What he does recall is that two years ago a man gave him the card and suggested that Fawehinmi call him about trying out for the U.S. Paralympic team. At the time, Fawehinmi said he had not even heard of the Paralympic Games. And he said he threw out the card almost as quickly as he received it.
Shortly thereafter, Fawehinmi’s track and field coach suggested the same thing. His coach thought Fawehinmi, then a junior at Mansfield Summit High School, should try to compete at the highest level of Paralympic competition. Again, Fawehinmi was hesitant. Sure, his left arm was underdeveloped, but he had always competed against able-bodied athletes.
Finally, though, Fawehinmi decided to give it a shot. The Arlington, Texas, native would attempt to make the London 2012 Paralympic Games in his two best events — long jump and triple jump. He had the support of his family and coaches, and began training extra hard, and he earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team.
His previous feelings of hesitation have been replaced with confidence.
“I’m very glad I got involved with the Paralympics,” Fawehinmi said. “Not everybody can say that they get all this cool stuff; that they get to travel to all these amazing places. I think it’s a blessing.”
That is the epitome of Fawehinmi’s mindset. Although his left arm got stuck during childbirth, Fawehinmi only sees his underdeveloped arm when he looks in the mirror. The rest of the time, he sees an average 17-year-old boy, albeit one with much more athletic ability than most high school seniors.
Fawehinmi concluded his high school career at the Texas 4A state meet in May by earning a silver medal in the triple jump with an effort of 47 feet, 4 ½ inches. It was his first medal at the state level, and it was the perfect end to a standout high school career.
“That’s what I’ve been wanting the most throughout middle school and into high school,” Fawehinmi said. “I barely missed it my junior year, but I was able to get it my senior year.”
From here, Fawehinmi is heading to the University of Texas at Arlington on a track and field scholarship. But first, he hopes to compete for the U.S. Paralympic team at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championship in July in Lyon, France.
To achieve that goal, he has to compete at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in San Antonio. Fawehinmi said that he has already hit his qualifying standards and is “very confident that I’ll be a part of the team.”
Assuming that Fawehinmi does compete in France next month, he will enter the event with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The motivation results from the 2012 Paralympic Games, where Fawehinmi competed in the triple jump in the F46 class.
“It didn't go well,” he said.
Fawehinmi fouled on his first two jumps. Then on his third and final attempt, he thought he fouled and he didn't finish the jump. As it turned out, he did not foul on that attempt and could have potentially placed for a medal.
He also competed in the long jump, the 200 meters and a relay but did not come home with a medal. All in all, the performance left a sour taste in his mouth.
He hopes to change that with better performances at the upcoming worlds.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Fawehinmi said. “I’d really like to compete with them again, and hopefully, it will be a lot different this time. Being one of the youngest people out there, I definitely have something to prove to everybody.”
Fawehinmi actually believes that long jump is his best event at the moment, although triple jump has been his superior event for much of his life. He is going to college primarily for long jump, though “only God knows” which event he will end up thriving at once he heads down to college.
In terms of training, Fawehinmi has always hit the gym just like all his teammates.
“Nothing really stops me,” he said. “I do leg press and leg curls. I do dumb bells, rather than a bar. I train hard.”
He also plays hard. Not only track and field, either. Fawehinmi has played football — “real, actual football with pads,” he jokes — as well as soccer and basketball. But it’s obvious where his present, and future, stand.
“Just looking back at everything, I feel like God put me in this position,” Fawehinmi said. “Not everybody gets an opportunity to be a part of something special like (the Paralympics). Some people look at you and they think, ‘He can’t do anything because of this disability.’ But I know God made me the way I am just to be an inspiration to other people, (proving) that, no matter what you’re like, you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.
“Looking back on everything that has happened — throwing away the card and then it eventually coming back to me, then finding out what the Paralympics is, and making the team, that is how I know God put me in this position. … I think about how life would be different if I had two regular arms, but everything happens for a reason. I’m happy with the outcome.”
For more information the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, June 14-16, in San Antonio, including a schedule and results, click here.