Tim Bailey had been waiting for an opportunity to represent Westland High School in an athletic contest.
Confined to a wheelchair since early childhood, the junior finally got that chance after the Ohio High School Athletic Association ann-ounced last summer that it had approved adding wheelchair finals in four events to the state track and field meet, beginning this spring.
"I was excited," said Bailey, who has Caudal regression syndrome, a rare congenital disorder characterized by abnormal development of the lower spine. "I can represent Westland because I've always wanted to do a sport for my high school."
Bailey is competing in the 100, 400 and 800 meters. The other event being offered for wheelchair athletes is the shot put.
The top eight boys and top eight girls in each event will advance to the state meet June 7 and 8 at Ohio State based on regular-season times and distances. According to the OHSAA, the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches is keeping track of the results.
State qualifiers will wear school uniforms and receive awards for individual honors but will not score points for their teams.
Bailey competed in four meets held between April 2 and 16, setting new personal-best times in the three events in each meet. His top times are 18.5 seconds in the 100, 1:04 in the 400 and 2:14 in the 800.
However, Bailey strained the rotator cuff in his right shoulder during warm-ups for the Best of the South-West Invitational on April 19 at Franklin Heights and is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks.
Despite not being able to compete, Bailey attended Westland's meet against host Central Crossing and Grove City Christian on April 23 to offer support for his teammates, including one of his friends since childhood, Connor Scott.
"I always give him advice on how to pace things out," said Scott, a junior sprinter. "He's always supporting us and we're supporting him. ... He's like one of us. We're all a family and we treat him just like us."
Westland coach Tim Eckard said Bailey was welcomed to the boys track team this spring.
"He's one of our best athletes and the kids have accepted him because he's such a good guy," Eckard said. "He's easy to like. His personality is so big (but) in a good way. (His teammates) don't even see the wheelchair anymore. They just see a guy on the track team that they like."
Bailey competed in the 100 in the U.S. Paralympic Trials last summer in Indianapolis, finishing 12th (18:53) of 13 in a preliminary heat in his age group. The top eight advanced to the next round.
Track and field isn't the only sport in which he participates, however. He also competes in sled hockey -- also known as sledge hockey -- during the winter at Chiller Dublin.
Bailey, who has been living with his grandparents since the death of his mother in 2008, also stays active in the community as a volunteer at Doctors Hospital.
"I love to help other people," he said.
Bailey, who said he has provided support and guidance to wheelchair athletes on other teams, plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps after he graduates and pursue a career in computer science.
"If you ask anyone on my team and ask them to describe me, they won't describe me being in a wheelchair," he said. "I'm not in a wheelchair to any of them, and that's what I want people to know.
"I don't like people looking at me and saying, 'He's in a wheelchair. Let's feel sorry for him.' That's my pet peeve. I hate when people say they feel sorry for me. I'm just like you. I might do something different, but I still do it."