AMES, Iowa — When most people see double amputee AJ Digby for the first time on the track, they underestimate him. That only happens once.
“Before a race somebody will say that poor kid or it’s good that he’s going out there to try,” Digby says, “And then once the race starts and we cross the finish line and I beat most of the kids out there then they’re starting to wonder, hey is he cheating, like what’s happening?”
Digby is one of two hundred athletes with disabilities from all over the country who competed in the 31st National Junior Disability Championships in Ames. They are athletes with disabilities, not disabled athletes.
“Disability is not the defining characteristic of these people,” says organizer Mike Boone, “It’s their personalities. It’s their drive. It’s their athleticism.”
That forces these athletes to push themselves to the limit. “I personally train about 5-6 days a week, I have lifting about 2-3 days a week. I work on my strength then I’m running after I lift,” Digby says.
Athlete Eric Johnson says when he competes, he forgets he only has one foot. “My goal was always to make a disability kinda nonexistent almost so I guess it’s not necessarily ‘I can outrun you.’ It’s ‘I can run with you.’”
The championship gives these athletes a chance to compete against others with similar disabilities. “We’re best friends off the track but once that gun sounds and you start your race it’s on to whoever’s the best athlete and everyone’s pushing for their spot,” Digby says, “There’s no mercy out there.”