Gunn grad Amy Watt, a first-year student at Pomona College, is headed to the Rio Paralympic Games, which begin Wednesday. Watt will be competing in the long jump, 100 and 400-meter events.
Born without part of her left arm, she started soccer in kindergarten and continued playing through junior high school, where she discovered track and field.
“I was encouraged by my mom and friends,” says Watt of the support, adding “It was also a fun activity to do.”
It was in the 10th grade at Gunn when Watt, who was at track practice going over hurdle technique with her coach, was approached by a Gunn alumnus who is an amputee.
He recommended she check out the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships happening at College of San Mateo that summer.
A friend she had met at an amputee camp was competing in a 4x100-meter relay, and the group needed one more person. So the friend went up to the stands where Watt was sitting with her family to ask her, would she run with them?
Watt agreed, and unofficially ran her first track meet at the championships.
“Never thought I could do Paralympic track and field until I saw some other arm amputees and realized I could also do it,” says Watt, who thought those competitions were meant for leg amputees.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has a classification system that determines athletes’ eligibility in the competitions and divides them into sport classes with athletes with similar impairments that cause approximately the same amount of activity limitation in key athletic disciplines, including running and jumps and throws.
Watt was eligible under the IPC classification T47 – which allows athletes with impairments in the upper limbs to compete standing without support.
It wasn’t long until Watt was nationally classified in the Paralympics and began competing at the international level. She traveled to the Netherlands for the IWAS World Junior Games, followed by the Parapan American Games in Toronto where she came in fourth place in the 100 and 200-meter events.
Last year, as a high school senior, Watt traveled to Doha, Qatar, where she participated in the IPC World Championships and came in fifth in the 400-meter dash and seventh in the long jump.
In between homework and world competitions, Watt had a tough decision to think about: college. Having decided she wanted to attend a Division III school, she got in touch with track and field coaches from her top choices.
When she visited Pomona, she was struck by the people she met and the tight community.
“I liked that family feel before you get to campus. I liked having small classes, that’s something I really wanted in any school. I liked the general feeling of campus and could envision myself here being really happy. I met a lot of intelligent but humble people here.”
Although she’s not sure what she plans to major in she is sure she’s going to continue track and field at Pomona.
“She is a remarkable jumper and sprinter who has had a successful high school career, and I know she can continue to improve her performance in all her events,” says Pomona-Pitzer women’s cross country and track & field coach Kirk Reynolds. “With her all-around skills and her bright demeanor and optimistic outlook, she'll really help our squad in the spring.”
She was coached by Stanford grad Patti Sue Plummer at Gunn.
Watt was busily getting ready for her move to Pomona when she got the special call telling her she would be traveling to Rio for the Paralympic Games.
“I [called Coach Reynolds let him know that I ended up making the team to go to Rio. I didn’t know who I should contact or what do to about missing some school,” recalls Watt. “He just asked when I’d be gone, information about the events, and the dates for everything. He talked to several people and the dean, he took care of a lot of it for me and made it easier for me, especially with packing and getting ready to come to Pomona.”
Now the games are only days away.
“I’m excited, I brought down a suitcase with my competition gear,” she says, beaming. “It’s under my bed and I’m really excited to go and compete.”
Stanford sophomore Brickelle Bro will be swimming in four events: the 50 free, 100 free, 400 free and 100 fly. She has trials in all three free events on Thursday.
Steven Toyoji and Kate Holloway, staff members at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, are also competing.
Toyoji, in track and field, will race in the 400 and 1,500 events. Holloway is on the sitting volleyball team.