Hyde overcomes adversity as adaptive sports athlete

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Central sophomore Zoey Hyde is competing in wheelchair races for the track and field team. She is Central’s first ever wheelchair racer, competing in the 100-, 400- and 800-meter events. (Photo courtesy of Zoey Hyde)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Overcoming adversity is a natural characteristic of the human condition, often defining who someone becomes and how they overcome the adversities life throws in their path. Did they simply give up and quit, or did they meet the challenge head on, treating it more like a minor impediment rather than a road block on the way to achieving goals set out before them. 


An example of overcoming adversity can be witnessed on the track, where Central sophomore and adaptive sports athlete Zoey Hyde became the first wheelchair racer in Central’s track and field history when she competed in the 55-meter event at the University of Dubuque on March 7.


However, Zoey’s history in the sport didn’t start this way, and it didn’t start on the track. It was the outgrowth of an adversity that has followed Zoey since she was a toddler, when a medical issue became evident. She’s had chronic pain since age 9, though it took until she was 13 when doctors—on the unrelenting advocacy of her mother and herself—finally identified what was wrong and provided an accurate diagnosis, paving the way for Zoey to retrieve effective treatment.


The name of Zoey’s adversity is a condition known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of 13 heritable connective tissue disorders. Of the 13, the one Zoey is impacted by is hypermobile type (hEDS), and according to the Ehlers-Danlos Society, it “can lead to joint subluxations, dislocations, sprains and other injuries,” as well as joint instability which “can cause both acute and chronic pain and interfere with daily life.”


“Essentially, the stuff that holds everything in my body together isn’t built right, and connective tissue exists in literally every part of your body, so it affects me in many different ways,” Zoey explained.


Additionally, Zoey has issues with her digestive system, blood pressure and heart rate regulation, as well as neurological issues and chronic fatigue, just to name a few. Among the list of adversities, managing the pain, fatigue and accessibility with the use of forearm crutches are daily obstacles, since there is difficulty living with the need of mobility aids, making even the most basic task complicated. 


It’s an obstacle Zoey has overcome through practicing those “little everyday tasks,” watching other disabled individuals and experimenting, trying to find what works best for her to do things, like navigating the issue of accessibility, which occurs frequently.


Then there is the issue of sports, which Zoey was able to participate in fully as an able-bodied individual just a year ago, when she was on the track and field team as a competitor in the shot put and discus events. The condition is progressive, and the “decline” was something she “actively watched” throughout the season. It soon became apparent she would likely never compete in those events again, and whether or not she’d make her way back to the track and field team was still a question that remained unanswered. But if there is one thing for certain about Zoey, finding a way over the wall of adversity is part of who she is.


“She’s not a quitter, so during the summer, she talked to me about the possibility of being a wheelchair athlete for track. I hadn’t thought about it before but I felt it was certainly a great thing to look into,” said track and field coach Martha Bauder.


Zoey did nearly 100 percent of the research, according to Bauder, finding out what it would take before the 2023 season even ended. She contacted Adaptive Sports Iowa (ASI), whose mission is “to provide statewide leadership in the planning, promotion, education and organization of sports and recreation opportunities for Iowans with physical disabilities.”


Among what she needed was the right equipment. This required a specialized wheelchair designed with two back wheels that are angled or cambered and one front wheel, a steering mechanism and something called a compensator to help her steer hands-free on a track as well as push rims coated in rubber for grip. Don’t forget about a helmet and then racing gloves, which are specifically made for wheelchair racing using a hard 3-D printed plastic with a rubber covering. 


None of these items, however, are free. In the case of the wheelchair, the most basic racing one runs about $4,000, proving to be a hefty price tag. But through ASI and director Hannah Bowman, a wheelchair was purchased for Zoey using a grant. Zoey bought the gloves herself for about $100.


Even with equipment, Zoey had to decide if getting back on the track was something she wanted to do. The decision came down to a few factors, one being the support shown by Bauder and coach Jamie Reimer, something Zoey said she “never had to question.” 


The other factor was her history playing wheelchair basketball for the Iowa Grizzlies, which she has been a member of for 18 months. The encouragement from teammates and coaches in that adaptive sport, combined with exposure to another adaptive sport, helped motivate the decision.


“I think I have been truly blessed with the best teammates and coaches. Everyone on my team has been my biggest supporters and are always the first to ask, and willing to help if I need it. Every time I get on the track, even if I’m not racing against any other competitors, I know I’m not racing alone. My teammates will be there to cheer me on and push me to be my best,” Zoey said.


Preparing for the season is also different, and far from throwing a shot put or discus, wheelchair racing requires getting used to the wheelchair and its mechanics. There’s also a lot of work on upper body strength, core exercises and cardio, as well as working on starts in the gym or on black top. In her free time, Zoey goes on longer runs along the river in Guttenberg, readying for race day.


The first finally arrived on March 7. Zoey was admittedly “really nervous” before the race. There was a lack of sureness in what she was doing, and being on the track alone scared her.


“Luckily, one of my friends from wheelchair basketball, who also competes but wasn’t that day, was there and helped me with some stuff before, which made me feel better. When it came time to race, my brain just kind of shut off until I finished,” Zoey said.


After that first race, Zoey had a sense of accomplishment—of achieving something she never thought she would again. It wasn’t about whether she won or lost. She was just happy to be fulfilling a passion again.


“Living with a progressive condition, I’m constantly losing ability and grieving what I’ve lost, so getting a sense of one of those things back means a lot more than most people realize,” Zoey explained.


In recent events, Zoey has done very well, setting personal records with each new meet, most recently in the 100-meter wheelchair at Central City. She also medaled in the 400-meter and 800-meter wheelchair events. 


Aside from racing, another of Zoey’s passions is promoting awareness of adaptive sports, which is important because she knows “how alone and purposeless” she felt when she was “struggling with the mental effects of becoming/being disabled.”


“Adaptive sports are not really about the sport itself. It’s about feeling a sense of normalcy, relating to others and a lot more. I want every disabled person to know these options exist and be able to access them. Adaptive sports are proven to help mental, physical and social wellbeing in disabled individuals,” Zoey said.  


The efforts to raise awareness, which includes being the first and currently only adaptive sports athlete on the girls track and field team, also includes advocating for accessibility in outdoor recreation around Clayton County. 


This month, Zoey spoke via Zoom about her personal experience for an event hosted by the University of Iowa. Over the next year, as a Young Adult Rare Representative for the EveryLife Foundation, she will  work on federal legislation to “ensure access to approved treatments for rare diseases.”


With so much to come, Zoey takes time to focus on the goals she has for the track, like pushing herself to the limit and reaching personal records every time she races. 


There’s also the “sense of normalcy” racing brings, giving her the chance to do something she did before hEDS made it seem impossible. It’s also a chance to be back with friends and that support system. 


Most of all, though, it’s a chance to impact others in overcoming adversity.


“I think Zoey is a very positive influence on the team members. I think they see that people can overcome adversity if they are willing to find a way to keep battling, and I think they see that they should take advantage of the opportunities they have to participate in track and field,” Bauder said. 

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