Gateway To Gold Game Changer Hunter Woodhall

By U.S. Paralympics | Aug. 19, 2017, 12:56 p.m. (ET)

Hunter’s Stats

  • Paralympic silver (200m) and bronze (400m) medalist
  • Four-time world championships medalist
    • 2017: silver (200, 400)
    • 2015: silver (400) and bronze (200)


He’s still a teenager, but that hasn’t stopped Hunter Woodhall of Syracuse, Utah from becoming one of the top sprinters in the world. Before he turned 18, Woodhall not only qualified for his first Paralympic team, but also went on to bring home two medals from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Woodhall competed alongside his able-bodied peers in high school as he ran track for Syracuse High School and claimed back-to-back state titles in the 400 his junior and senior years. Woodhall closed his high school career by becoming the fastest Utah high schooler to ever run the 400 in 46.56 seconds.

 

After competing at the highest levels as a high schooler, it was only fitting that Woodhall made history in his college decision to attend the University of Arkansas. Woodhall became the first double-amputee to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship in track and field.

“I had the choice to either go pro or run college, and a mixture of wanting to break down barriers and change perceptions, along with just getting that experience at the next level was the biggest factor for me in that decision.”

For Woodhall, the journey to Arkansas wasn’t without it’s own hurdles. Woodhall received almost no interest from college coaches for years, and nobody reached out to him before or after November’s early signing period, despite having posted some of the top high school track times in the country. Ultimately, with the help of his coach and 1984 Olympic champion Joaquim Cruz, along with Challenged Athletes Foundation co-founder Bob Babbitt, he started breaking his way through.

At the moment, the NCAA doesn’t have any rules that prohibit an amputee runner from competing in open meets, though many recruiters and coaches are afraid to wade into an area of the sport that has not yet been fully explored at the collegiate level in the United States.

Woodhall’s decision came down to scholarship offers from four schools — BYU, Arkansas, North Carolina and Long Beach State — and he ultimately chose Arkansas, as that’s where he felt he would succeed the most as a student-athlete at the end of the day.

“It will open the door,” Woodhall said of jumping to the NCAA stage. “I think that door right now is closed, and we’re working really hard to break it open and push it down and show the world what is possible. I think a lot of people see a disability and instantly they go to ‘what can’t they do’ instead of ‘what can they do.’

The Gateway to Gold Game Changer series highlights athletes, community groups, Paralympic Sport Clubs and partners who exemplify the Gateway to Gold athlete identification and development strategy that introduces Americans with Paralympic-eligible impairments to Paralympic sport and leads them into the athlete pipeline for the U.S. Paralympic Team.

 

Portions of this story were originally published on TeamUSA.org in May of 2017.