Teen Athlete Born with Spina Bifida Represents Team USA in Wheelchair Racing

By Jade Waddy

When you see Jacob Allen, 18, racing around the track you would never know he’s only been competing for three years. The Ukraine-born athlete was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. But that hasn’t stopped Allen from displaying tremendous athleticism since he came to the United States in 2016.  

An encounter with a school nurse led Allen to learn more about adaptive sports, specifically wheelchair racing. “I was hesitant at first, but I agreed to give it a shot,” Allen said. “We do not have wheelchair racing in Ukraine, so I was very excited that I got to do the sport.”

The school nurse gave Allen a pink racing chair, which initially made him not want to participate; however, due to encouragement from his mother, he went ahead and gave it a try.

“During my first time racing I was nervous and I didn’t want to disappoint my coach or teammates,” Allen said. It wasn’t long after his first race that Allen would go on to compete at the state level and earn a bronze medal in his first year competing in the 100 meter race.

Allen quickly excelled in wheelchair racing. “One thing that really helped me get better is my love for powerlifting because I rely on my upper body strength in the race. It’s very important for me to lift weights,” Allen said.

In addition to track and field, Allen also competes on the TIRR Memorial Hermann Junior Hotwheels and softball teams. 

Allen spent time working with a physical therapist at TIRR Memorial Hermann-The Woodlands to increase his mobility and improve his core strength after a recent surgery.

“I’m thankful to one of our partners, Texas Regional ParaSport, for helping Jacob fall in love with and excel in wheelchair racing,” TIRR Memorial Hermann Adaptive Sports Coordinator Peggy Turner said. “He’s been able to join TIRR’s youth teams, which has provided him with great cross training to contribute to his racing success.”

“The benefits that come from playing on a team sport are endless. He’s been able to make new friends, improve in his leadership skills, develop better communication, and learn his strengths and weaknesses,” Turner added.

This summer, Allen was selected to represent Team USA as one of 20 youth named to the 2019 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field World Junior Championships Team. He placed fourth in the 800 and 100 meter races, and fifth in the 1500 meter and 400 meter races.

Allen’s mother, Sheela, is extremely proud of her son and thankful for the local adaptive sports community. “I’m grateful for what track and field has been able to do for Jacob,” she said. “I hope more schools and programs are established for young athletes with disabilities.”

Next fall, Allen will attend the University of Arizona on an athletic scholarship and continue his love for track.

October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month, which recognizes the thousands of people living with spina bifida. To learn more about rehabilitation services for spina bifida visit http://tirr.memorialhermann.org/programs-specialties/spina-bifida/.

To learn more about the adaptive sports program at TIRR Memorial Hermann visit http://tirr.memorialhermann.org/patient-resources/adaptive-sports/.

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