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Sports Notebook

Somerville teen pushes forward as amputee athlete

Marita Coombs and her daughter Lucy, who swims competitively without her prosthetic left leg.

Marita Coombs and her daughter Lucy, who swims competitively without her prosthetic left leg.

Coombs focuses on meeting challenges

Four years ago, competing in her first San Diego Triathlon Challenge, Lucy Coombs received an unforgettable message from her mentor, Paralympics medalist Rudy Garcia-Tolson .

“The only disability is a negative attitude,” he told her.

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Coombs, a 15-year-old Somerville resident entering her sophomore year at Prospect Charter Hill Academy in Cambridge, has ingrained Garcia-Tolson’s motto into her everyday approach.

Despite undergoing an above-the-knee amputation of her left leg at age 3 as a result of tibial hemimelia, a partial or total absence of the tibia, she has successfuly completed the 1.2-mile open water race four times at the Triathlon Challenge, which is hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

At the end of this month, Coombs will attend the Amputee Coalition’s Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp in Clarksville, Ohio, for the fourth straight year. At the five-day camp, children ages 10-17 who have limb loss or limb difference compete in a series of outdoor activities.

“There are so many activities that normal people do,” she said. “The first year I went, one of the older campers who lost her leg said, ‘It’s one week a year where we get to be normal for once.’ Basically, that’s what the camp tries to do.’’

Her mother, Marita Coombs , said she was first interested in sending her daughter to the camp after attending an Amputee Coalition conference in Boston with her husband, Bob.

“It was heartwarming to hear these teenagers bond from all over the country,” Marita said. “The camp is so great. It’s completely free, and sponsored by donors who get kids from all over the country and fly them to camp. And most of the counselors are amputees.”

This year has been a trying one for her daughter.

After undergoing reconstructive surgery on her right knee in November, she was hospitalized for five days with an infection in March. But Coombs, who is still fighting the infection, is able to participate in the coalition’s summer camp, and in October she will swim in her fifth San Diego Triathlon Challenge.

Her favorite sport is swimming, which she started in the third grade at the Healey School in Somerville. She now swims at the Somerville Y.

“With swimming, I liked how you didn’t need a leg,” Coombs said. “I always swam without a [prosthetic] leg on. I started swim team in third grade, but nobody really cared. I could be faster than people without a leg.”

When she first competed in 2008, Coombs was awarded a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Because of the grant, Coombs, who has a prosthetic left leg, received a prosthetic limb designed for running.

Every year that Coombs competes in the triathlon, she raises money via the Challenged Athletes Foundation; to date she has collected nearly $8,000, which she says is very gratifying.

“You see all these little kids running around, or they’re just learning to walk, and I know that swimming this mile will help them later in life,” said Coombs. “Or they will become a really amazing runner, or can get a racing wheelchair.”

Marblehead teen wins badminton gold

While a number of student-athletes at Marblehead High are spending the summer preparing for the fall season, 17-year-old senior-to-be Chris Rodts is making the rounds dominating the badminton circuit.

He acknowledges the sport may not be as popular as others, but he has received an abundance of support in town, which has hosted major junior competitions in the past decade.

“It definitely is difficult to play in high school and not have a team, and it’s difficult when we’re playing kids from schools where it’s very encouraged,” Rodts said. “Although it’s not extremely popular, people do have enthusiasm for it and support me because it’s unique and know what scale I’ve played.”

On June 30, Rodts captured the gold medal in badminton at the Bay State Games, defeating Yikun Cai in the Men’s A division. He also captured gold in the doubles with 32-year-old Nick Vered , his coach and the director of the Marblehead Youth Badminton Association.

On Wednesday, Rodts returned home from the US Junior Nationals tournament in San Francisco. In his fifth year competing, he earned a Top 20 finish.

The Bay State Games “were intense,” Rodts said. “It was really good; we kind of use it as a warm-up. I was playing a lot of good people I might have faced in junior nationals.”

Rodts, who runs outdoor track and cross-country at Marblehead High, began playing badminton at age 9 at the Gut ’n’ Feathers Club in Marblehead, at the suggestion of a friend, Max Cushman . Initially, Rodts said, they were playing for fun but then got hooked on the game, and the challenge of getting better.

“Once we competed in our first East Coast competition, I got a sense of how big it is and how popular it is even if it’s not mainstream,” Rodts said. Marblehead “is one of the few places in Massachusetts and the East Coast that has support for the sport.”

Every year in November, the Marblehead Youth Badminton Association hosts the New England Junior Open, which features athletes from ages 9-19.

The event has grown immensely, and has featured athletes from around the country, and a student from Hungary.

“That’s what we’re happy about,” Rodts said. “It’s definitely gotten a lot bigger. Every year we find new clubs starting to compete. It’s growing outside of New England and California. We hope that eventually it will become a college sport.”

Breen drops role as North Andover coach

After 14 seasons as the head coach of the North Andover girls’ basketball team, Sue Breen announced her retirement last week.

Prior to joining the Scarlet Knights, the North Andover alum (class of 1984) coached at Lynnfield. She finished her career with a 279-134 record (205-100 at North Andover), guiding the Scarlet Knights to the Division 2 North final last season.

“I wasn’t even sure at the end of this season,” Breen said. “You always recharge after the season, and I think I’m at a point in my life where I have to spend more time with my family and have more balance.

“It’s hard because it’s something I love to do. It’s definitely part of my life. I’ve had such a great experience coaching great kids and working with great assistant coaches,’’ she said.

Breen will continue to teach history at Lynnfield High.

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at gulizia.ant@gmail.com.
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