Hannah Dederick celebrates with her gold medal in the women's 400-meter T54 at the at Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 24, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
It has been quite a run so far for Hannah Dederick. One of the younger members of the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field team, Dederick is already making a name for herself as she prepares to represent her country at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Just shy of her 17th birthday, the wheelchair racer has already found herself atop the medal stand 11 times, including four gold medals in her first world junior championships in 2017 and another four at the 2019 junior worlds.
She advanced from junior competition to lead a Team USA medal sweep in the women’s T54 400-meter at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 in August, which helped secure her spot on the U.S. team that will compete in Dubai Nov. 7-15.
“Hearing the anthem being played for me made me feel like I was making everyone — my coaches, my family, my country — proud,” Dederick said.
Born with spina bifida, Dederick has come a long way since being left on the steps of a Suzhou, China, hospital as a baby. She came to the United States after being adopted from a Chinese orphanage by her parents, Don and Lori Dederick, and is now one of five siblings in the Dederick household.
“When I’m not competing in sports, I’m usually at home with my family,” she said.
Not that her athletic schedule leaves much time for anything else. When she’s not competing for Team USA, she is participating in any number of sports through either ParaSport Spokane or Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Washington.
“I don’t really stop training. I’m training or competing continuously throughout the seasons. It’s a year-round thing for me,” she said. “My life is really about sports. There’s a lot of training and traveling involved.”
In the fall, Dederick’s taking part in cross-country running. In the winter, it’s basketball. In the spring through summer months, it’s track.
Where cross-country and track are largely individual endeavors, Dederick enjoys the different aspect of playing basketball.
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“I like the team atmosphere and spirit,” she said of her time on the hard court. “I enjoy working as a team; it’s not just an individual sport.”
Yet it is track that has taken her talents to an international level. While she already has medaled in a variety of distances from 100 all the way to 5,000 meters, it is the 100 where she feels most at home. It is the distance in which she will compete in Dubai.
“There’s many more opportunities for me in the 100,” she said. “Not a lot of people do it, but I like it.”
While many track athletes have their pregame rituals before competing, Dederick likes to keep her preparation simple. She merely concentrates on the basics: staying hydrated, making sure her chair is in proper working order, keeping her tires inflated. She said that adding much else only serves to psych herself out.
“There’s not a lot of mental things I do to get ready,” she said. “I want to be mentally prepared, but don’t want the race to get in my head by thinking about it too much. When I think about it too much, I get nervous and negativity starts to get into my head. Instead, I just keep myself busy.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. With 16 medals to her name so far, she’s putting together quite a resume in a limited amount of time.
While she admits to “counting down the days” to Dubai, Dederick said that adding another medal to her healthy total isn’t the first thing on her mind when it comes to the 2 ½ weeks she is spending halfway around the world.
“The most important thing for me is to have fun,” she said. “The results aren’t as important to me as doing my best against all these amazing athletes that will be over there."
Upon her return from Dubai and the high school classwork that will be awaiting her — though she is bringing much of her coursework with her to the United Arab Emirates — she will be looking forward to the prospect of competing in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“I’m definitely trying to make the Tokyo team in the 100, so I’ll be training pretty hard for the next eight months,” she said.
Dederick is aware and appreciative of the doors that have been opened to her through her participation in Para track and field.
“It definitely feels like a huge honor to have this big of an opportunity at such a young age,” she said. “It’s really led me to a lot bigger goals in life and makes me want to aim to be one of the best athletes in the world.”
Tom Carothers is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.