Friday, March 18, 2011

New Zealand teen seeks Paralympics spot with high-jump talent

From Taranaki Daily News in New Zealand:

In the face of adversity a one-legged Taranaki student is literally taking it all in his stride vying for the ultimate goal – a ticket to the Paralympics.

Jono Brownjohn (pictured), 14, broke his high-jump personal best at the New Plymouth Boys' High School athletics day on March 17.

The year 10 student cleared 1.63 metres with prosthetic leg still intact, unlike his first experience of the event at Devon Intermediate School two years ago.

"I was doing high jump for the first time and my leg was already a bit loose and I cleared the pole with my right leg and body and then my left leg flew off and nearly hit my friend in the head. Everyone thought it was hilarious and started laughing," he said.

Jono won five gold medals at last year's national secondary school athletics champs and the next hurdle is sealing a place in the Paralympic squad for next year's games.

"My dream is to go to the Paralympics and do field sports. That would really be it for me," he said.

Jono, who was born with a deformed leg, has never let the disability hold him back and sports have always played a large part in his life.

"My Mum said the (umbilical) cord got wrapped around my arm and leg before I was born so I have short fingers and my left leg stops just below the knee from where it didn't get a chance to grow.

"I was born and raised in Papua New Guinea and we didn't really have the surfaces to play sports like we have here but we always got out and gave everything a go.

"My leg was never a problem and I just got on with it," he said.

After moving to New Plymouth three years ago, Jono has progressed from a kid who simply enjoyed playing sport to one who has a promising future competing at the Paralympics. He also plays basketball and has a string of medals in almost every track and field event.

"He's a real natural and a cult hero," New Plymouth Boys' High School principal Michael McMenamin said.

"The fact he has never let his disability affect him or what he does is why the school loves him."

Jono says he would like to break the school's senior high jump record of 1.8 metres and it's likely he will with three years to train for it.

He says he has always been treated the same as anyone else since moving to Taranaki and feels honoured by younger students looking up to his achievements.

"I do think some people think of me as a role model and I'm really happy with that. At the start of this year some of the year 9 boys came up to me and asked if I was the Jono that does really well at sports and said how awesome they thought that was.

"I felt really special when they said that," he said.

Jono credits much of his success to his sports teacher, John Weston, who identified his sporting talent and put him in contact with the Westpac Community Trust athletes with disabilities programme.