Written by John Szozda
July 12, 2012
Oregon’s Zena Cole has her eyes on Olympic gold.
Zena qualified earlier this year for Team USA and will compete in the London 2012 Paralympic Games in August.
The games will be held two weeks following the Olympics. More than 4,200 athletes from 165 countries will compete in such sports as swimming, volleyball, rowing, fencing, rugby, shooting, cycling and track and field. There will be live television and on-line coverage.
Zena is one of 19 members of the women’s track and field team. She is the oldest at 55. She competes as a quadriplegic and is the national record holder for that category in both the discus and the club throw. Her best discus throw is 5.59 meters, or about 18.3 feet, less than two feet off the world mark. Her best club throw is 13.68 meters, or about 44.8 feet. The club throw is similar to the hammer-throw, but the club is shaped like a billy club to allow those with disabilities to better grasp it.
Zena represented her country last year at the Parapan Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and the World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. She won gold in the discus in Guadalajara and silver in Christchurch. She recently spent two weeks at the official Olympic Training Camp in Chula Vista, Calif. The professional coaching has helped her increase her discus throw from 4 to 5.59 meters and her club throw from 8 to 13.68 meters.
She currently practices twice a week in the back yard at her Oregon home. She throws 15 to 20 times in each session and works out with the medicine ball and Thera-Bands. Her “children”--two nieces who live with her--retrieve and help her train.
While Olympic athletes are expected to train harder this close to the games, Zena must guard against post-polio syndrome. This regressive condition, which affects polio survivors years after the initial attack, first hit Zena in 1991 when she was working full time and raising another niece. She was taxing her shoulders and arms getting in and out of her mobility van, in and out of the shower and in and out of bed. The strain of an active independent life had knocked her out. She had no energy. So, at the age of 43, Zena reluctantly traded in her wheelchair for a power chair.
Looking back on it now, it was the best thing she could have done. But, at the time, Zena saw it as surrender. “I wasn’t going to let polio get the best of me,” she recalls.
While the power chair may have been a reluctant concession, everyday chores no longer sapped her strength and energy, so she could devote more time to her sports.
That pursuit and an active lifestyle has been a part of Zena’s approach to life ever since she can remember. She grew up one of nine children in Toledo’s north end. She contracted polio at 18 months old, but says her mother and siblings didn’t coddle her, nor shun her. If a playmate said she couldn’t play in a pick-up baseball game, the whole family wouldn’t play.
“If they were going to do it, I was going to do it, or attempt to do it,” she said. “My mother (Florence) always told me, `There’s nothing in your way. Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ Mine is, `Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way.’ She would say, `Continue to follow your dreams. If you can dream it, you can do it.’”
Zena remembers at age 12 her doctor told her she needed to discard the leg braces and crutches and expect to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. At first, she couldn’t accept that. She spent the next year riding around on a skateboard, putting off the inevitable. In 1979, at age 22, she started participating in wheelchair sports with the Toledo Marathon Silver Streaks. She juggled that love of sport with her responsibilities as a single parent and years working for Goodwill Industries and the State of Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.
As you can see, Zena has followed her mother’s advice and is passing that down to her “children.” Because of trying family circumstances, Zena has been the “mother” to three nieces. Two of them, ages 14 and 15, are still at home. One of the family pastimes is camping. Nature instills a sense of adventure in the girls that can sometimes lead to risk taking. That creates a conflict for Zena who finds herself juggling her role as a protective mother with that of an active independent woman. “I have a really difficult time telling the younger ones, `Well, don’t do that because you can get hurt and end up in a wheelchair.’ They’ll say, `Well Mommy, you’re in a wheelchair and you do okay.’”
At age 55, this may be Zena’s only chance for an Olympic medal. There’s another inspirational story coming to television screens all over the world, one that may increase the number of competitors Zena will face in the future. Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee from South Africa, will run the 400 meters in the Olympics on his carbon fiber blades. He will be the first athlete to participate in both the Olympics and Paralympics. Who knows how many dreams he will inspire?
A spokesperson from Bob Evans has announced both local restaurants will participate in the fundraiser for Danny Katschke on Wednesday, July 25 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fifteen percent of each check will be donated to the Katschke family to help pay medical bills following Dan’s heart attack and brain injury.
To donate, take in the ad on page five to the Navarre location in Oregon or the Lemoyne Road location in Northwood.
In addition, Fifth Third Bank has opened an account for those who would like to donate directly to the family. Checks should be made out to Danny Katschke Benefit and dropped off at any Fifth Third location.
Sherry Katschke’s name was misspelled in John Szozda’s column last week. Sherry is Dan’s wife. The Press regrets the error.
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