A nonstop journey
Losing her legs hasn't kept one girl from pursuing her passion for athletics.
By Mike Camunas, Times Staff Writer
Published February 26, 2008
Heather Haynie will fall down once in a while.
She won't get embarrassed. Her face won't turn red. This 16-year-old double amputee will dust off and climb right back into her wheelchair.
"Every time I fall over, I just get back up," Haynie said. "It doesn't bother me. Every Paralympian falls over, because you'll even see the best players flip over. Unless you have a heavy bottom half, you're not going to stay grounded."
Haynie lost her legs in a car accident when she was 4 and has been wheeling along ever since.
Is she angry? Only occasionally, because she can't do things by herself.
"I have to have people help me, and that bothers me," she said.
But on her own, Haynie qualified to represent the United States at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Games this summer in New Jersey.
Haynie, who will throw the javelin, shot put and discus, honed her skills at BlazeSports, a program designed to help physically disabled children participate in sports. She joined the program when she moved from South Carolina six years ago, and coordinator Andy Chasanoff says it's easy to see why she was selected.
"Heather has natural ability," Chasanoff said. "She has more athletic potential than most of the kids that are (at BlazeSports). Really, she works hard, and if she does, she can go as far as she wants to, which includes making our U.S. Paralympic team."
Chasanoff said Haynie "really leads by example and certainly has made a difference with a number of athletes because she's become a role model to them," which seems fitting for the athlete who doesn't care if a look from a stranger lingers a little long.
"People stare at me, but you know, they stare because they don't know," Haynie said. "I don't mind it, but most people come and ask me, 'Oh, what's wrong with you?' And I tell them, and they go, 'How do you do things?'
"But I'm happy this way, instead of having problems with my feet. I'm probably better off than an able-bodied person."
Her father is glad for programs like BlazeSports, which is a practical stepping stone for disabled athletes to compete seriously. He said that without such places, things would be more difficult.
"She can accomplish anything that she wants to," Phil Haynie said. "These kids can do anything they want to do. They have the drive inside to do that. It opens up a whole world for her, and she's been very fortunate to travel and compete, and this shows that she can do. ...
"It's been good for her self-confidence, especially when she goes to the nationals. When there's a thousand other people in wheelchairs, we're normal - well, we're all normal to ourselves."
Heather has a different outlook on things. Though she became disabled at a young age, she didn't want it to handicap her life completely.
"I remember everything," Haynie said, "but I just moved on. Nothing is going to stop me from what I want to do. I'm not the kind of person that is going to change, and when I lost my legs, I wasn't going to change."
"I love myself. I don't look down on myself. You don't have enough time in your life to feel sorry for yourself."
It wasn't easy at first. She had to learn to use a wheelchair, and several years later, she had to learn to play sports in a wheelchair. She says it was a tough process, but things are "evolving," making it easier for disabled athletes. Soon, she'll graduate from high school and continue to pursue making the 2012 Paralymics in London.
And Haynie realizes that not even being disabled can stop her.
"Just because you lost something that may help you get around doesn't mean life stops," Haynie said. "You need to get back out there and try hard and not just sit there. When I first lost my legs, I was depressed because, obviously, my world had changed to a whole different direction.
"But I got into sports, and just because I lost my legs doesn't mean I can't be a world-class athlete."
Submit story ideas, feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas at (352) 544-9480.
School: Zephyrhills High
Her dream goal: to make the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Discus: 21.74 feet
Shot put: 7.02 feet
Javelin: 15.98 feet
When she grows up
Haynie has narrowed colleges she would like to attend to two: Arizona State and Alabama, and eventually she would like to become a prosthetic doctor.
Haynie was selected to represent the United States at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Games this summer in New Jersey.