The Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association annually recognizes student-athletes who overcome physical hardships, mental disabilities, or personal challenges with the Frank Kelley Adversity Award.
This year’s honorees, recognized last Sunday at Lantana’s in Randolph, included Brendan Driscoll (Manchester Essex Regional), Kaitlyn Cowden (Wilmington High), Shane Buchanan (Newburyport), Alex DiMauro (Woburn), and Cameron Marr (St. Mary’s of Lynn).
Tough and fearless.
John Barbour, the joint track coach at Manchester Essex Regional and Gloucester High, repeated these adjectives again and again when discussing the 16-year-old Driscoll.
A week after the sophomore was recognized , his coach was still oozing admiration over what a “terrific influence on everybody” Driscoll had been all season.
“What struck me about Brendan was his interest in — not just in trying things — but his total lack of having barriers,” said the sixth-year coach.
“He certainly could do the sprints, but he was also interested in the high jump. Here’s somebody with a prosthetic foot who is trying the high jump.”
Barbour nominated Driscoll, an amputee from below the knee on his left leg, believing no one was more deserving.
Driscoll was born with a congenital condition of his left tibia and fibula, and his leg was amputated at age 5. Three years later he started wearing a carbon-fiber prosthesis, which allowed him to undertake a more active lifestyle that included running.
The 5-foot-6, 145-pound Essex resident has been on the move ever since.
“I’ve tried a few different sports, swimming and triathlons mainly,” he said.
“But I keep coming back to track because I feel it’s a sport I can really come to enjoy . . . just the simplicity of it and because it’s something growing up that I never thought I would be able to do.”
And while Driscoll’s primary events were the 100, 200, and 400 meters for the junior varsity squad, the ferociousness with which he threw himself into trying other events is what left a lasting impression.
“In mid-February, I believe, we were either in the middle of a high jump or hurdle drill,” Barbour said. “The weather is bad outside and we don’t have proper facilities so a lot of the training we do is on stairs. We were doing these various stair drills and Brendan is doing them right with everyone else . . . and I hear this loud crack. I wondered what it was for a few moments until I hear Brendan say, ‘I broke my foot.’”
Brendan came down carrying his broken foot and said, ‘Don’t worry, I have a spare tire.’”
This resiliency will spur Driscoll this summer — when he is scheduled to compete in International Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports meets in both Iowa in July and in England in August — and beyond.
“At the moment my biggest goal is to make the 2016 US Paralympics team,” he said. “But if that can’t happen, which it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t, I guess at some point being able to go to the Paralympics.”
Cowden never got dejected.
Not when at 8 years old she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition she monitors today with “a constant smile on her face and a contagious personality,” according to Brie Karow, the outdoor track and girls’ basketball coach at Wilmington High.
As a sophomore, Cowden learned she had compartment syndrome, a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels in both shins.
She underwent surgery, experienced pain, particularly in her right leg, and was forced to wear a boot for two months this winter after discovering she had a stress fracture.
The 18-year-old senior, who graduated on June 1 and will pursue a nursing degree at Regis College in the fall, stayed continually upbeat and confronted these obstacles during her high school athletic career.
Of her diabetes and ensuing ailments, Cowden said, “I had to grow up and mature a lot more quickly than my friends. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; I wouldn’t change a thing.”
She added: “Everything I’ve undergone has made me a stronger person. It’s helped me realize that sometimes when you set a goal it doesn’t work out exactly as you planned it in your head. Things get in the way. But when you have your goal in sight there is nothing that can ever stop you.”
Buchanan lost his father, George, his self-proclaimed best friend, on Jan. 1 to a heart attack. His mother, Geralyn Grammont, fell, fractured her hip, and underwent hip replacement surgery a month later.
But he knew he had to push forward.
“My dad was a really strict guy; he was in the military,” said the 18-year-old Buchanan, a recent Newburyport High grad. “Whenever I had to do my chores, he would say, ‘Go do them because some day I’m not going to be here.’ I just never thought that day would come.”
After taking the winter track and field season off, the 5-foot-6, 210-pound thrower (shot put and javelin) resumed practices in the spring and qualified for the Cape Ann League championship.
“I’ve never had an individual in my 29 years of coaching deal with so much on his plate in such a short amount of time,” said Newburyport coach Tim Foley.
DiMauro, who had her spleen removed as a young runner, was a four-year runner at Woburn and a three-sport (cross-country, indoor and outdoor track) captain this season.
Cameron Marr Marr, a sophomore at St. Mary’s, suffered a severe brain injury as a young child, but has never let his physical disabilities stop him from competing. He has embraced cross-country and running.Paul Lazdowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @plazdow.