Hillsborough County group furthers their training
By Kyle LoJacono
Heather Haynie and Josh Melendez regularly compete for state and regional honors with Hillsborough County’s Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay club, but the two just received bigger recognition.
The athletes, who both live in east Pasco County, were named to the first-ever High School All-American Track and Field Team. U.S. Paralympics, part of the U.S. Olympic Committee, selects the team.
Andy Chasanoff has been the club’s sports coordinator since it started eight years ago and coaches track and field.
“It’s tremendously exciting,” Chasanoff said. “It shows you the tremendous amount of effort and determination these athletes put into their sport.”
Haynie, 19, graduated from Zephyrhills High in the spring and won the first ever Florida High School Athletic Association Class I state shot put championship for disabled athletes May 7 with a toss of 26 feet, 7.5 inches. Along with making the team, she was also named the 2010 Girls Field Athlete of the Year for the discus and javelin throw and shot put events.
“Feels good,” Haynie said of earning the award and making the team. “It takes a lot of work.”
Haynie has been the shot put national champion for physically disabled athletes in her age group every year since she was in fifth grade.
Melendez, 18, also just graduated, but from Wiregrass Ranch High in Wesley Chapel and currently attends Pasco-Hernando Community College. He lives in Odessa.
Melendez made the team for the javelin and discus toss, shot put and long jump events. He also competes in various running and swimming events.
“I’ve competed with the club for seven years and it’s pretty cool to make the team,” Melendez said. “It shows how the club has gotten bigger and better from years ago. We’ve got a lot more athletes and the coaches have made us all better.”
Melendez competed in cross country while at Wiregrass Ranch and his competitive nature is obvious.
“I just love the spirit of competition,” Melendez said. “When I’m in a race I’m just thinking finish strong and in a field event I’m focusing on what I’m doing.”
Haynie became disabled after a car accident when she was one week shy of her fifth birthday. She lost most of her legs in the crash. Melendez had a stroke while being born.
“I’ve been working with disabled athletes for about 30 years and I love doing it,” Chasanoff said. “The three who made it should be very proud of themselves because they are the best at what they do.”
Tampa resident Nigel Diaz, 14, was the third member of the club to make the team.
“They all practice two to three times a week, but they need to do a lot on their own to get to this level,” Chasanoff said. “I heard about them making the team a couple of weeks. Heather making the team didn’t surprise me because she’s truly the best in the country at what she does, but I was really happy for the other two.”
Cathy Sellers, director of High Performance Track and Field, said it was exciting the name this first All-American squad.
“We wanted to recognize these exceptional high school athletes and their efforts and let people know these are great, young Paralympic athletes,” Sellers said.
Hillsborough County’s club was also named the top local sports club in the nation earlier this year by U.S. Paralympics, according to county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department spokesman John Brill. It was selected from more than 100 local clubs throughout the country.
“It’s a great recognition for the club,” Chasanoff said. “It clearly shows the kind of effort our coaches and athletes put into it.”