Deja Young has a deformity.
It never goes away. It’s been with her since birth, when her delivery went awry and a panicked doctor, she says, pulled on her head too hard and caused a dislocated right shoulder.
That right shoulder still bothers Young, a Wichita State sprinter who is in Rio de Janeiro this week to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in the 100 and 200 meters.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Young said. “I’m super excited for the opportunity of representing the United States in something I love.”
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This wouldn’t be happening without the injury, which affects the range of motion in Young’s shoulder and makes running fast more of a challenge because the injury limits the pumping, engine-like motion in her right arm. She moves her arm back and forth across her torso, not up and down, while running.
Unquestionably, she would run slightly faster without the injury.
But here’s the thing about Young: She’s never going to acknowledge that fact.
“She’s got a mindset of wanting to be really, really good,” said Wichita State sprint coach John Wise. “She’s not satisfied with being where’s she’s at. She doesn’t want to just win the Paralympics, she wants to break world records.”
Young, who is from Mesquite, Texas, was a standout volleyball and softball player in high school. She has steadfastly refused to give in to her deformity and in those sports it was less of a hindrance than it has been in track and field.
But when she took up track as a freshman in high school, she discovered speed. And she’s been hooked ever since. A junior, Young has been on two Missouri Valley Conference championship teams in the 60 and 100 meters and also competed on Wichita State’s 400 relay team as a freshman and junior.
“She finished sixth last year in the 100 meters and she’s not happy with that,” Wise said. “She wants to be in the top three.”
Young admits her deformity weighs on her. But it’s never an excuse for any perceived shortcoming.
“I don’t feel like my disability holds me back, no it doesn’t,” Young said. “I feel like I’m just as good as any other athlete. But am I still self-conscious about it? Surprisingly, yes I am. I’m human.”
Even so, Young said she’s thankful to the doctor who she believes rushed to get her out of her mother’s womb.
“No, I’m not mad at him,” she said. “Actually, I want to thank him because I wouldn’t be here in this place without him. It’s emotional for me, but without him I wouldn’t be in these places. It’s made me who I am today, the person I am today.”
Young said she wasn’t heavily recruited by other schools, despite her speed. She was one of the best high school sprinters in Texas, ranked 12th in the 200. Many schools, she said, backed off of recruiting her because of her injury.
Wichita State didn’t.
“We talked about her injury but it wasn’t something we put much focus on,” Wise said. “She just wants to be a regular girl, be on the track team and be a Division I athlete.”
There are things Young can’t do, especially in the weight room. But the Shocker coaches have devised alternatives that can be compared to the weight-room performances of other athletes.
That’s important to Young, who doesn’t want to be different.
“She probably should complain more because we know she has pain,” Wise said. “But she never does. She’s a hard-working girl who is of the mindset not to use her disability as an excuse. And in Division I, the other competitors don’t care — they’re not going to slow down for you.”
Young underwent three surgeries on her shoulder before coming to Wichita State and requires regular treatment to minimize her discomfort. She separated her shoulder in 2015 just by picking up a backpack and tossing it over a fence.
She’ll deal with her injury for the rest of her life. But because of her will and athletic ability, the rest of her life is going to include a chance to run in the Paralympics and continue to compete for the Shockers.
“All of this has given me a different outlook on life,” Young said. “It makes me appreciate things more and it has made me a more compassionate person. I look at things differently and appreciate everything that my parents and my friends have done for me.”
Sports have been huge for Young. She loved playing the outfield and being a catcher in softball, calling that sport her true love. She was an outside hitter in volleyball, using her left arm and hand to hit. She has built a powerful lower body to make up for any issues her lack of right shoulder strength causes in track.
“Deja won’t ever be satisfied,” Wise said. “She’s very tough on herself with high expectations in everything she does. But I like that. You want to reign them in rather than have to push them. And with her, you definitely have to reign her in more.”
When: Opening ceremony Wednesday, events Sept. 8-18
Where: Rio de Janeiro
- Nick Taylor, tennis: Taylor competes in quad tennis beginning Friday.
- Liz Willis, sprints: Willis competes in the 400 meters beginning Monday, the 200 beginning Sept. 14, and the 100 beginning Sept. 17.
- Deja Young, sprints: Young competes in the 100 beginning Saturday and the 200 beginning Sept. 15.