On Monday, assistant coach John Wise texted Paralympian Deja Young to suggest she visit the Wichita State University track and field team room to show her teammates her two gold medals upon her return to Wichita.
The message was a misdirection. On Tuesday, Young arrived at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport to a full-blown Shocker surprise reception, complete with WuShock, cheerleaders, flowers and hugs.
Nick Taylor, who won a silver medal in quad doubles tennis and is a volunteer assistant coach at WSU, received a similar treatment.
“I haven’t cried this whole trip,” Young said Tuesday. “Wow. I’m speechless. I’m very, very speechless.”
Young, from Mesquite, Texas, won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints in Rio de Janeiro last week with times of 12.15 seconds and 25.46 seconds.
With those medals on her resume, Young now sees a responsibility to use her success.
“Now that I’ve actually made a name for myself in Paralympics I can actually advocate it and just make a difference in the program,” she said. “Advocate that it’s OK to have disabilities — at the end of the day you’re the only person who’s stopping you from doing what you want to do.”
She will travel to Washington, D.C., from Sept. 28-Oct. 3 and visit the White House for an audience with President Obama.
Young was born with a shoulder deformity after the doctor delivering her pulled on her head too hard, dislocating her shoulder. Her arm movement is limited and creates an unconventional running form.
Young spent three weeks in Brazil, most of that time off the track and in the athletes housing.
“It was like living in the dorms or at summer camp with different countries,” she said. “We get pins and we trade them out with each other, and so I got lots and lots of different pins from different countries.
“I really enjoyed being able to interact with different people and talk to them about their cultures and see how they prepared for the Games.”
Food is always a concern at international competitions. Athletes in Rio could choose from dishes from all over the world.
Young kept it simple.
“Pasta was my best friend,” she said.
“The mess hall … was very overwhelming. There was so much to choose from, and trying to keep a healthy diet and maintain that was really hard.
“It didn’t help that McDonald’s was closer to my room than the mess hall.”
Young will take around a month off before she resumes training for WSU’s indoor season in January.
The Paralympics forced her to train toward a peak in the early fall, and then she had to peak again in the late spring for Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA races. Most WSU athletes rest in the summer before escalating their training throughout the fall and winter.
“The indoor season will be a little later getting going for her in terms of how well she might run,” said Wise, who coaches WSU’s sprinters. “We went pretty hard through the summer. She did a good job of staying focusing, a lot of workouts by herself.”
Young’s personal-best in the 100 is 11.9 seconds, and her time of 24.43 in the 200 ranks No. 12 on WSU’s career list. She was a part of WSU’s 400-meter relay team in 2015 that ranks first at WSU with a time of 44.30 seconds.
“I know she can run better still,” Wise said. “I don’t know if we’ve landed on the perfect combination of what to do, but we’re learning.”
Australians Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson beat Taylor and David Wagner 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 for the gold medal. Taylor and Wagner were attempting to win a fourth gold medal.
Taylor lost in the singles quarterfinals to Alcott 6-2, 6-0.
“Doubles-wise, the Australians were coming into that tournament unseeded and we knew they were going to be potentially the best team there,” Taylor said. “Our first hope was that the draw went right and we didn’t have to play them before the final. Then we played them in the final and fought as hard as we could.
“There wasn’t a whole lot more we could do in that match.”