Amy Watt had a lot on her mind as she embarked on a plane to Doha, Qatar, last Friday for the IPC Athletics World Championships.
While gearing up for the biggest track and field competition of her young career, the high school senior, a left-arm amputee, has been wrestling with a major decision this month.
Where will she attend college?
It seems all her friends and family want to know that these days.
“I’m a little bit stressed out now because I’ve got some big deadlines,” a soft-spoken Watt said prior to leaving for Doha. “There’s a lot of decision-making going on.”
No matter the answer, Watt’s college applications will surely showcase her good grades, conversational Chinese language skills, medals in Paralympic track and field and participation on local soccer, cross-country and track and field teams.
She wants to study biology in college and has narrowed her choices to a couple of elite liberal arts schools in California and Massachusetts.
But from Oct. 21-31, she knows she’ll have to put her college decision-making process on hold in order to focus on her world championship debut
In Doha, Watt will compete in the long jump, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter T47 events.
That’s a stacked schedule for someone who had never dipped foot in Paralympic sport until last year.
Watt was introduced to it when a high school classmate informed her the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships were taking place in San Mateo, California, less than 20 miles down the road from her hometown of Palo Alto.
After doing some research, and also contacting U.S. Paralympic national team athlete Jessica Heims, whom she had met several years ago at an amputee camp in Iowa, Watt decided to venture to San Mateo to see what all the hype was about.
Heims ended up asking Watt if she wanted to take part in the 4x100-meter T35-38/44-46 relay, so Watt borrowed some tights from three-time U.S. Paralympian April Holmes and ran the third leg in her debut relay experience.
|Watt pictured with her makeshift relay team at the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships. (L-R) Megan Absten, Grace Norman, Heims, Watt|
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Watt said. “I never learned a lot of about the Paralympics, so running in the relay was a lot of fun and made me want to do it again the future.”
She did do it again. And before she knew it, Watt was named a U.S. Paralympics Track and Field High School All-American before the year’s end, making a list that honors the top high school athletes with a Paralympic-eligible impairment based on their performances.
Watt officially competed in her first U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships this past June, finishing first in the 400-meter and long jump and taking second in the 100- and 200-meter. In July, she went to Stadskanaal, Netherlands, to partake in the IWAS World Junior Games, her first international event. Then at August’s Parapan American Games in Toronto, she just missed the podium among the senior field, placing a very respectable fourth in both the 100 and 200.
Heading into the world championships, Watt ranks fifth in the world this year in the long jump (5.23 m), ninth in the 100-meter (13:09), ninth in the 200-meter (27.38) and sixth in the 400-meter (1:02.85).
Watt’s always been one to go with the flow, and said until now she hasn’t been challenged much in life beyond having to learn to put her hair in a ponytail with one arm.
When asked how she feels about being called “inspirational,” Watt’s answer actually represents what many rising athletes in the Paralympic world are saying these days.
“I’m not that inspiring,” she said. “I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it, being called inspirational. I’m neutral, and it depends on the situation.”
Her response also accurately reflects her nonchalant approach to this week’s world championships.
“I don’t really have any expectations, but it’d be wonderful to get a personal best,” she said.
In fact, Watt jumped onto the competition stage so quickly — and has had such startling early success — that she’s barely had time to even toy with the idea of potentially competing at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I went to nationals this year, and everything just picked up from there after I did really well,” she said. “I was able to make the Parapan American team and the world team.
“I know that I’m going to go to the next nationals, a qualifying event, and while I don’t really know yet how the qualifying and standards work, it would definitely be an amazing experience to be able to represent the USA in Rio.”
UPDATE: Watt finished fifth in the 400-meter and seventh in the long jump, she will compete in the 200 on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 2:17 p.m. ET and the 100 on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 11:03 a.m. ET. A free live stream of the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships is available at USParalympics.org.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.