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Houghton High senior pushing for adaptive sports opportunities

Maria Velat was a captain on the Houghton High School cross country team as a sophomore, with hopes of pursuing sports in college. All of that changed dramatically with the rapid onset of transverse myelitis. In a matter of days, she went from participating in meets to being unable to use her arms or legs. Velat talks about that fateful stretch.

It progressed really rapidly. The day before I ran a cross country race, and then that morning my arms felt weak and my back hurt. By the end of the day I was quadriplegic. I was flown down to Ann Arbor [UM Hospital]. I spent a year relearning how to walk.

Myelitis causes a person’s own immune system to attack the spinal cord. Velat has gradually won back some of her freedom of motion. As inflammation receded she adopted a comprehensive physical therapy regimen, which has allowed Velat to slowly regain the ability to walk with the aid of crutches.

The thin cases of the nerves of her spinal cord, the myelin sheaths, will most likely have permanent damage, meaning that to compete athletically she has had to learn how to participate in adaptive sports. Velat says wheelchairs exist for track, basketball, ice hockey, even swimming. She has taken up track, particularly sprints. Coached remotely by representatives from the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, Velat competes for the Gremlins in dual meets, up to conference championships. The Michigan High School Athletic Association does not recognize her efforts at meets it sanctions, though. Velat is working to change that.

We’ve been working on the proposal since the summer, after track season. So, they did a similar thing for swimming and they had a trial season. We’re trying to get it for this spring, at least in the Upper Peninsula, to get it integrated [for track].

She says that 35 other states have already greenlit adaptive sports. Velat says she has won some concessions at this time. This spring she will be guaranteed a chance to take part in regional and UP-wide meets. The question is if her score will be able to count towards the school’s total.

Velat says her efforts are proving to be fruitful. Five other adaptive athletes have shown an interest in taking part in sports locally, and if the MHSAA welcomes them into the fold she expects that will grow. Velat is hoping for the okay for this spring, but she has to work through an intermediary in Athletic Director John Sanregret. The MHSAA only accepts proposals from representatives of member schools.

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