Eighteen months after switching from soccer to track and field, Nick Mayhugh became an overnight sensation in his Paralympic debut.
In Tokyo, the Virginia native won medals in all four of his events in the T37 classification — gold in the 100-, 200- and 4x100-meter universal relay, and silver in the 400. On top of that, he set world records in three different events and an American record in another.
“I am the type of person that wants to push myself to the limits. I knew that if I put my mind to it, I could become the best in the world,” said the 25-year-old.
Mayhugh was welcomed back on American soil with a surprise airport greeting by family and friends that was featured on the “TODAY” show, before he consumed himself in his long-awaited celebration of “eating as many Oreos as possible.”
His performances turned plenty of heads in the track world during the Games, including that of the greatest Olympic sprinter of all-time, Usain Bolt. The eight-time Olympic champion gave Mayhugh a video shoutout on Instagram to recognize his achievements, leaving Mayhugh absolutely floored.
“He is one of my biggest role models and my greatest inspiration in track and field,” Mayhugh said. “He is the GOAT of all GOATs, the greatest of all-time. He set the standard in the modern era and I grew up and watched him run.
“It was always the idea that I want to run as fast as him. I know I’ll never be able to run 9.5, but I want to be the Usain Bolt of the Paralympics. I want to be that standard for kids looking up and to know that even if you are disabled there isn’t a negative connotation to it anymore. You set your own limits. You believe in yourself and you set your own barrier and surpass it. Be as successful as you want to be.”
While many were taken by surprise by his Tokyo performances, Mayhugh — who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a freshman in high school after having a grand mal seizure and an MRI revealing a dead spot on the right side of his brain — has been adamantly dedicated to making the Paralympic podium the last few years.
He was the 2019 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year with a Disability after leading the U.S. to bronze at that year’s Parapan American Games, but wanted to test his skills on the track after he found out soccer 7-a-side would no longer be on the Paralympic Games program.
“I’m in the best shape of my life. Soccer and track are two completely different sports, marathon and sprint, so to go from one and try and completely change to the other is incredibly difficult,” he said.
“There were more days than not when I sat back and was second-guessing myself, but I stuck to it. There were days when I didn’t want to get up and get out of bed and go lift or go run on the track but my brother, my family, my coach were there every step of the way. It’s all credit to them.”
Having absorbed his new sport like a sponge, Mayhugh broke world records twice in the both the 100 and 200, setting new bests of 10.95 and 21.91 in the finals, in addition to the 45.52 mark he set together with Tatyana McFadden, Brittni Mason and Noah Malone to win the first-ever 4x100-meter universal relay.
Coached by his older brother Thomas, following his last event, the 200-meter final, he kneeled down on the track, unable to hold back the tears as he gave thanks to him.
“You could see how emotional I was as I crossed the finish line. All I could think about was my brother,” he said post-race. “The fact he is not here breaks my heart, but I know he is watching at home. He’s probably crying right now.”
Mayhugh has now colossally transformed into a whole new person since the days in his childhood when he’d lock himself in his room at home and teach himself how to walk back and forth without a limp in his left leg, trying to practice hiding his disability.
“It’s indescribable. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a testament to all the hard work that me and my team have put in,” he said.
And this was only his Paralympic debut.
There’s more “Mayhugh Magic” left to come, he said.