Blake Haxton competes in the men's va'a single 200-meter VL2 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.
When Blake Haxton came out of the water after winning a silver medal in canoe sprint at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, his coach, Patrick Kington, told him he might have just written the first line of his obituary.
“We kind of laughed about it,” Haxton recalled. “Hey, that ain’t bad. That’s going to be the top line of my resume for quite some time. That’s pretty special.”
After years of hard work rowing in single sculls, the 30-year-old Haxton of Columbus, Ohio, had finally won his first medal — ironically, just three years after first getting into a canoe. In Tokyo he was Team USA’s only two-sport athlete, competing in single sculls rowing for the second Games in a row as well as the men’s va’a single 200-meter VL2 event in canoe sprint.
“It’s strange to finally get on the podium,” Haxton said. “Obviously, on the biggest stage is pretty special. It’s a change in perspective, for sure.
“I’ve been fourth so many times in rowing that I’ve gotten pretty good at not getting my hopes up. I’ve made a career out of being a day late and a dollar short.”
Haxton had long since come to terms with his limitations in rowing.
“I’ve basically known since 2014 that I didn’t have a shot at the top of the podium,” Haxton said, “or maybe a podium at all, on my best day.”
The canoe was another matter, entirely.
“I think physiologically, it’s a better match,” said Haxton, who lost his legs as a high school senior to Necrotizing Fasciitis, better known as the flesh-eating disease. Prior to that, he had been captain of the Upper Arlington High School rowing team and a Division 1 college prospect.
Not that Haxton didn’t have his share of success in Paralympic rowing. He had finished just off the podium in world championships, and after his Paralympic debut in 2016 he became the first adaptive athlete to be named USRowing Male Athlete of the Year.
Haxton and the canoe seemed made for each other, however. Though he had hurried to prepare for the 2019 world championships, he paddled well enough to see potential.
“I didn’t qualify for Tokyo on that trip but had a good enough run to see where the low-hanging fruit was, see that I could improve,” Haxton said. “So, I was really encouraged.”
Then came the pandemic, which for Haxton, “was a blessing in disguise. I spent the entire summer in the canoe. That bore out in the qualifier last spring.”