Noah Malone competes at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 28, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Sprinter Noah Malone, the legally blind teen who helped the U.S. make history at the World Para Athletics Championships last month, is taking his next step. The 18-year-old high school senior announced Saturday that he has committed to Indiana State University, where he plans to make a run at next summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Malone, who has Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a genetic disorder that affects the optic nerve and has caused him to lose most of his sight, is one of very few visually impaired athletes to commit to a Division I school.
The AAU Junior Olympic competitor was already drawing attention as one of the top young sprinters in the country when he noticed that something was off with his sight on his first day of eighth grade. An initial belief that Malone just needed glasses led to him being diagnosed with LHON, for which there is no cure.
That was 2015.
“It was very stressful at first, because I was like, ‘Am I still going to be able to run track?’ And then once the track season came around, coaches and everything, we changed the workouts and changed just how I trained, because I couldn’t see things,” the Fishers, Indiana, resident and Hamilton Southeastern High School/Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired senior said in a recent interview with TownePost LIVE. “After all those changes, I started to learn that I could still run track, and at the same level I was at. So I was really fortunate.”
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His impairment has necessitated some adjustments: Malone once fractured his ankle stepping on a starting block he didn’t see when running a 200-meter, an experience he says taught him to be more aware of everything around him. He now walks the track before meets, making mental notes where the lines are, and coaches give him audible cues as races progress. What hasn’t been affected is his speed.
Running the leadoff leg of the 4x100 universal relay at November’s Para World Championships in Dubai, a race where teams are comprised of racers with visual, limb and neurological impairments and anchored by a wheelchair racer, Malone set the tone. The team of Malone, Deja Young, Jaleen Roberts and Erik Hightower blazed past China and Russia, grabbing the United States’s first ever world title in the event.
Individually, Malone’s personal best in the 100 meters, 10.7 seconds, would have won him gold in the T12 classification at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
Crouched on the starting line, Malone can see only a few feet in front of him looking straight ahead, though objects are blurry if he looks directly at them. He has learned to deal.
“Knowing for myself that yeah, I can still run, and not only still run but run at a great level, that was really the most important thing for me,” he told TownePost, “because at one point I didn’t know if I could run track at all.”
The future looks bright indeed.
Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.