Deja Young competing in the women's 200-meter T47 at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships on Nov. 13, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Deja Young’s trip to the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been just about perfect.
She broke a world record in the preliminaries of the women’s 100-meter T47, won silver in the final and then went on to win gold in the 200-meter T47 over the span of three days. The 23-year-old from Mesquite, Texas, said she was running better than she ever has.
“I was just speaking about it with my coach, and it’s the best performance I’ve had ever at a championship,” Young told TeamUSA.org from Dubai on Wednesday, after clocking in at 24.47 seconds in the 200-meter final. “I’ve never done so well before. It’s a big accomplishment.”
Young isn’t a stranger to winning. She won her first world title in 2015 in the 100, and at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and the following year’s world championships, Young won gold in both of her races, the 100 and 200. She was also part of the 4x100 team at Wichita State that won All-America status in 2015.
But the medals she won in Dubai are different, she said, because of everything she has overcome.
“I’m not the athlete I was three years ago. I’ve been through a lot in the past three years, and I’ve developed characteristics that have made me happy with who I am today,” she said. “Mentally, I’m a different person, and that made me run better on the track. I’m happy with that. I’m in a better place, and I’m happier.”
Young was born with a brachial plexus injury that limited mobility in her right shoulder, which affects her ability to sprint. Her years leading into those medals were tumultuous. In 2016, two and a half months before the Paralympics, Young dealt with a suicide attempt. She went on to win two golds in Rio. Then in 2017, she got into a serious car accident while driving to school at Wichita State from her home in Kansas. She went on to win two more golds at worlds.
Both times, she was faced with a choice: Should she continue to run? Should she continue to give everything the sport asks of her for a chance at a medal?
“I had to figure out if I really wanted to do this. If I really want to just sulk, or overcome myself,” she said. “I overcame. Then the car accident happened.
“I felt like, here we go again. I had to start at square one, and I felt defeated. I felt like there was no end. I had everything, and it was all taken away from me. I didn’t think it was fair. I had a decision again, to see if I wanted to sulk, and not run, or come back. I came back and won two more gold medals in London (at the 2017 world championships).”
Young’s focus has turned to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, but her goals are about more than winning. Her hope is to share her story to inspire others, and maybe even save a life.
“For me, yes, winning is nice, but I want people to know that I went through it. I’ve been through so much,” she said. “If they’re going through a lot, they can get through it, too. It’s doable. It’s possible. No matter what they think, how low they are. I’ve been in some low points. If I can do it, they can do it.”
The drive to help people, especially young people, is what led Young to get a degree in social work while at Wichita State. She, like so many college students, found her original chosen major didn’t work for her.
“Originally I was pre-med. After organic chemistry, I hated it, and I was miserable. And I thought, what’s another way I can help people?” she said. “I love to talk. I love to be hands-on with the community, and I thought social work. That’s perfect for me. I loved it.”
She worked at a Boys & Girls Club, and it affirmed what she had learned in her classes.
Social work was the right path for her. She has found that what works for her, whether as a social worker or as a Paralympic gold medalist, is inspiring youth and helping them thrive.
“I want to make a difference. That’s what I want to do most in 2020,” Young said. “Yes, winning would be great, but if I can make an impact, save a life with my story of suicide, or how I can talk about the youth is important, have someone go for their dreams, that will make me happy.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.