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Delay in Tokyo Games gives Cassadaga Valley's Rayven Sample time to catch his breath

Cassadaga Valley senior Rayven Sample concedes he was kind of bummed when he learned the Paralympics Games in Tokyo had been delayed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then he realized the benefits from waiting far outweigh pushing through on a normal timetable.

“It helps me,” said Sample, who will run at Bucknell. “For me being as young as I am, it gives me another year to train and get things sorted out.”

Sample is a multi-time Section VI champion and part of the defending state champion 4x400 relay. He has achieved success as a runner even though he 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. He has a stretching routine to prevent stiffening. Arms may be key for proper running form – aiding with balance and forward momentum, but Sample has figured out his own technique.

While waiting gives him more time to train – especially considering he’s not allowed to use school facilities while CV is closed during the pandemic – another benefit is a chance for him and those helping him to catch their breath.

Sample embarked on the Paralympics quest for 2020 kind of late in the game.

Sample was noticed by U.S. track and field officials when they were in Middletown scouting the New York State Public High School Athletic Association in June. During the summer, Falconer/Cassadaga Valley track and field coach Nick Spry received an email inquiring about Sample.

While Sample was running indoor track and qualified for the state meet, the lengthy process of paperwork and back-and-forth communication was ongoing for him to compete in an April qualifier in Phoenix, where doctors and U.S. track officials would evaluate potential Paralympic athletes. He received word in February that he would be allowed to take part.  If all went well there, the U.S. Paralympic Trials would be his next stop in June.

Sample quickly gained support from members of the community. The Falconer Track Club started a GoFundMe campaign to support his quest to take on the world, raising nearly $12,000 – of which most came during the first six days.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with that, as the qualifier initially was postponed at least a month before Tuesday’s news that the Tokyo Games were being delayed until 2021. Spry said it’s uncertain when the Arizona qualifier will be rescheduled along with the Olympic/Paralympic Trials.

“It’s changing every single day,” said Spry, who is handling logistics while Sample focuses on training and school. “They’re still not canceling everything. Everything will be postponed but not canceled.

“At first, we were just being rushed into it and hoping we were dotting all of our ‘i’s.’ Now we can make sure all of our paperwork is OK.”

And Sample can continue focusing on getting stronger and faster, even though he's working out on his own because the school's track and weight room are off-limits while schools are closed.

Nonetheless, Sample is still getting after it, hoping there will be some semblance of a spring sports season for high schools and remaining prepared for whenever the Paralympic evaluator/qualifier is rescheduled.

“Since we haven’t heard anything about NYSPHSAA, right now it’s training hard for spring season,” Sample said. “If they cancel, it becomes a practice season for me where I just continue to get stronger.

“My focus is to be the athlete. People put a lot of belief in me. I want to make sure that has a lot of return and something they can respect. I am grateful for their support.”

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