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Record-setting high school relay runners fueled by teammate's can-do attitude

To the eyes of those who don’t know Rayven Sample, watching what the Cassadaga Valley sophomore can do in the world of athletics might require a double take.

That followed by this question: Did he just do that?

The answer is yes; your eyes weren't playing tricks on you.

However, Sample doesn't consider what he's able to do on the track anything special even though he is succeeding while battling a disability.

Sample was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis, which causes joint contracture. Lack of muscle leads to stiffening of his joints.

In Sample's case, the condition has had an obvious effect on his hands and wrists. The limbs are underdeveloped. He doesn't have full motion of all joints and some have little to no motion.

That hasn't stopped him from being part of a championship outfit. Sample is the lead-off runner for Falconer/Cassadaga Valley's 4-x-800 relay. The foursome of Sample, Bryce Baglia, Collin Barmore and Andrew Young set a CCAA and school record last weekend in winning the Section VI Division II championship at Niagara Falls in 8 minutes, 3.55 seconds.

Young is the only senior on the relay team, which heads into this weekend's two-day state track and field championship meet at Cicero-North Syracuse as a No. 3 seed among Division II qualifiers for the race. Though the championships begin at 11 a.m. Friday, the 4-x-800 won't be contested until Saturday afternoon.

That gives the relay team plenty of time to enjoy the experience of being in a track meet involving the best of the best in this state.

"We're looking to get one of the state medals," said Sample, who also plays soccer and runs cross country. "We're mostly looking at top three, but, of course, you have to keep the state championship within range. … We're just going to go out and run as well as we can. Run as a family and make sure Andrew's last race is a good one."

While one must wonder how Sample is able to succeed in athletics the way he does, the same holds true for this relay team when looking at analytics. The best individual 800-meter time among the four is roughly 2:04. Multiply that by four and that's nowhere near a low 8-minute finish in the event.

But put them together and magic happens.

"They run 8:03, which mathematically doesn't make sense," Falconer/CV coach Nick Spry said. "On paper it's even incredible they can run under an 8:20.

Running for each other can lead to something special.

"They all get along great," Spry said. "It's almost like a family. A lot of times people think they're brothers because they look similar."

And feel normal, which is perhaps the key. Sample may look different but he doesn't feel it.

"He doesn't want his handicap to stop him," said Sample's grandmother Kathy. "He's always busy doing things. He loves running and cross country. He is an inspiration for younger kids as well as parents of older kids."

"Ray, even with his disability he's a strong person," Baglia said. "I don't know how he does it. His arms, it doesn't bother him at all. He gives it his all every race.

"He's always telling us to give it all we've got. He always expects so much from us and we always expect so much from him. Everyone is always looking around asking 'who is that kid and how is he doing that?' He is just a great athlete."

Spry said Sample can shoot a basketball and can throw a Frisbee. Tell him he can't do something and he figures out a way to get it done.

Arms may be key for proper running form – aiding with balance and forward momentum, but Sample has figured out his own technique to succeed.

"I just try to keep as standard as I can," Sample said. "I try to keep my shoulders as straight as I can to keep that standard. It helps conserve energy that could be expended if the arms were moving around side to side uncontrollably … I'm just trying to keep as much order in as much as I can do."

"He's got the perfect legs for a runner," Spry said. "Most of his life he's been forced to adapt and most of that he's used his legs. Using them has really helped out on the track.

"But pumping arms really will make you run faster. … If he had the use of his arms, it's almost like he'd be even faster."

Section VI champions and others who hit meet-qualifying standards will participate in this weekend's meet.

Returning state champions from the area include Sweet Home's Nate Davis and JFK's Shevaughn Allen among the boys. Among the girls, it's Nia Stevens of Tapestry along with relay teammates Taylor Hunter and Mirelle Ngoopos.

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