Hunter Woodhall is quick.
Around 47 seconds to be more approximate.
Or, 46.56 seconds to be exact, on his best day.
That’s the time it takes the 19-year-old to bolt around a 400-meter track.
But the two-time Paralympic medalist sprinter, who last year became the first double amputee to earn a Division I college scholarship, is now about to embark on the toughest challenge of his still relatively young career.
He’s gearing up to compete in three separate track seasons in the span of 15 months: the indoor and outdoor college seasons and Team USA’s road to the World Para Athletics Championships.
His daunting journey will begin this month at the University of Arkansas and conclude in November 2019 at the world championships in Dubai.
“It’s just a year straight of 100-percent training,” Woodhall said.
“Two years to Tokyo 2020 just came up, though, and it sparked something in me to get really excited and reminisce on my experience in Rio. Specifically, what I can capitalize on and change to come back a better athlete and better person with a better grip on my goals.”
Woodhall, whose legs were amputated below the knee at 11 months old, has been a star in the making since he had a breakout 2015 world championships performance, where he won the 400-meter silver medal and 200-meter bronze medal in his international debut. He went on to win bronze in the former distance and silver in the latter at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 as the youngest athlete in the field, and then took silver in both distances at last summer’s world championships in London.
He entered the University of Arkansas last fall riding high after breaking Utah’s 400-meter state record at his rival high school’s track and making history as a double amputee at the NCAA Division I level on scholarship.
However, as Woodhall steps back on campus for his sophomore year, he’s lost a bit of his strut since this time last year.
He’s been humbled.
“Coming out of high school in Utah, I was pretty dominant by my senior year after a lot of hard work to get there,” he said. “At that time, I was in a great place, running really well. Heading into college, I was expecting a phenomenal freshman year. But I just pushed my body a little too much and took my focus off and let myself go a little further than I wanted to go. And it just leveled me out and forced me to re-evaluate what’s going on in order to be better and run a little faster.”
Woodhall competed in six meets in his first NCAA indoor season, running a season-best of 1:58.04 over 800 meters. He competed in seven meets in the NCAA outdoor season, running a season-best of 47.42 over 400 meters. He was a bronze medalist in the 4x400 at the SEC Outdoor Championships and earned First-Team All-American honors at the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a member of the sixth-place relay team.
But, his body was nearly gone by the end of his freshman year.
He was, admittedly, completely worn out.
“It was a transition year and a learning experience for me,” he said. “As goes with a lot of college freshmen, it can be hard in your first year. You’re switching up where you’re living, who you’re friends with, where you’re training, the way you’re eating, and all these aspects of your life are changing.”
There were positives, too, though.
“The biggest thing for me was just gaining the respect of these guys I run with, and that conspired, I couldn’t be happier about that,” he added. “Pretty much all of the interactions I had with other student athletes were very positive. People showed a lot of respect for me, and I gained a lot of friends that were outside of the University of Arkansas.”
Woodhall also learned a lot off the track; he pushed himself just as hard in the classroom, earning an extremely respectable 3.8 GPA that put him on the SEC honor roll.
In his second year at Arkansas, he intends to focus on his specialty, the 400, with the U.S. Paralympics national championships expected to fall one week after the NCAA Outdoor Championships next summer.
He has a training plan for each of his three seasons, and will be concentrating on eating better — he nearly gained the freshman 15 — and handling the mental aspects of the sport with more sophistication.
“I think I set myself up really well to come into my sophomore year and make things happen,” Woodhall said.
And he’ll have three chances to do so.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.