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Athlete in wheelchair makes history at state track and field championship

CICERO – If you watched the New York State Public High School Athletic Association track and field championship, you undoubtedly saw the boy in the wheelchair competing in the two distance events.

That was a history-making moment with more to come.

Jason Robinson of Westmoreland High School became the first athlete who uses a wheelchair to participate in a NYSPHSAA track and field championship.

He was born with a condition in which he doesn't have use of his legs because his brain doesn't send neurological signals to his legs and feet.

His challenges didn't stop him from becoming a state champion.

Robinson, a freshman at the small school located west of Utica in what is considered Section III, became the first wheelchair user to win state titles – doing so in the 1,600 and 3,200 at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

"It means a lot because I'm setting a standard for people," Robinson said.

NYSPHSAA officials hope he won't be the only such athlete to win or participate at the yearly gathering featuring the finest talents in the state.

"This is certainly a historic event for a student-athlete in a wheelchair to be able to compete in a NYSPHSAA event," said Robert Zayas, the organization's executive director. "I'm excited that we've have other student-athletes ... set to participate at this level."

Zayas credited Robinson with "paving the way for the future of wheelchair athletics in New York State."

Jason Robinson from Westmoreland High School participates in the boys 3,200-meter run at the New York State Track and Field Championships at Cicero-North Syracuse High School on Friday June 8, 2018. (Harry Scull Jr./ Buffalo News)

Westmoreland school officials asked Section III counterparts about the possibility of arranging things so that Robinson, who competed in the popular 15-kilometer Boilermaker race in Utica as a 10-year-old, could compete for his school. Section III went to the state, which liked the idea.

NYSPHSAA officials adopted a one-year pilot program based on the guidelines for competition for wheelchair athletes used in Pennsylvania. The program could be approved for permanent use when the Central Committee meets in July.

Wheelchair athletes need to hit certain predetermined time standards in events for their scores to count for their teams in competitions.

Robinson earned the state championship in the 1,600 Saturday by posting a time of 4 minutes, 0.99 seconds. That was roughly 2 minutes better than the national predetermined standard for him to medal. He captured the 3,200 on Friday in 8 minutes, 25.38 seconds.

Those times follow impressive performances at the Section III state qualifier. According to MileSplit, Robinson's time of 3:59.71 in the 1,600 is No. 2 nationally and his time of 8:23.35 in the 3,200 is No. 1.

"I'm bringing awareness to people," Robinson said. "If another kid in a wheelchair or another kid with a disability saw me and said, 'I want to try that,' they can. They would get interested in the sport and then they would maybe be able to compete for their school."

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