Due to a series of pediatric strokes all but paralyzing the right side of his body, walking for 11-year-old Trent Clayton requires more than just putting one foot in front of the other.
That’s why he runs.
Shortly after his first birthday, Trent was diagnosed with hemiplegic cerebral palsy and foot drop, a condition that has weakened muscles on the right side of his body. Foot drop also paralyzes one or both lower legs, ankles and feet.
Since then, Trent also has suffered from periodic brain bleeding. He’s been through two major brain surgeries.
But running is more than a coping mechanism for Trent. It’s also easier.
“He’s always been a good runner,” his mother Darla Clayton said.
Despite being paralyzed, Trent is more comfortable running, something common among people with foot drop.
That’s because his gait — the way his feet strike and lift off the ground — is more natural when he runs, making him less likely to trip. He also is aided by a special leg brace made by Allard USA.
Because of that Trent often runs wherever he goes.
“Teachers have to tell him to stop running all the time,” Darla said. “But he likes running everywhere.”
Sometimes that means he gets in trouble at school for running through the hallway. It’s also resulted in several awards in challenged sporting competitions, something Trent has been doing since he was 7.
“I just love it,” he said.
While he isn’t a West Virginia native, the sixth-grader from Moon Middle School north of Pittsburgh, is in Charleston this week to compete in the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Challenged Sports Championship at Coonskin Park.
Despite his love for running, Trent has opted not to participate in foot races this year due to leg soreness. He’s still competing in archery, field events and swimming though.
“I like throwing,” he said. “I mean, what boy wouldn’t like to throw heavy metal objects around?”
Because of his condition, traditional sports have been ruled out, something Trent admits has been a source of much frustration growing up.
“I can’t play football or other sports,” he said. “If I fall and hit my head, it could cause brain bleeding.”
Those limitations sucked a lot of fun out of elementary school, Trent said, but he’s found a way to enjoy things he can participate in.
“I like archery,” he said. “I can teach myself to shoot things.”
Trent’s excitable personality is evident only after a few minutes around him — he’s a little unfocused and darts all over the place — but when it comes to shooting, he immediately calms down.
“Line’s hot,” he shouted to other competitors and judges as he readied his bow, lifted it to his line of sight and took aim at the target 20 or so feet away.
The boy who had trouble paying attention a few moments earlier was now focused as he released a volley of arrows in an orderly manner.
The first was a little off, curving into the red circle just outside the yellow bull’s-eye. Seven points.
The second was a little closer, moving in for eight points.
After shooting four arrows, Trent notched his final arrow. Archers shoot six arrows in competitions, but Trent lost one arrow and only shot five during his demonstration. He released it, letting it soar through the air until it found its way to the yellow circle.
“That’s a bull’s-eye,” Trent shouted excitedly.
He later counted up his arrows, which would have netted him 39 points had it been a competition round. Earlier in the morning, Trent shot a 510 out of 720, good for a first place medal.
Through hard work, Trent has excelled at sports. He holds the long jump and discus throw Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA record for his age group.
When asked what advice he’d give to others with disabilities, of any kind, Trent said people can go a long way if they believe in themselves.
“You can do anything if you just put your mind to it,” he said. “Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”
And for those who may be feeling down about their limitations, Trent said they’re only a hindrance if they let them be.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to do this, but I’m so into it now,” he said.
He also says finding a supportive place where one fits in is important.
When he first started running, Trent joined a club and got frustrated he couldn’t keep up with others.
“You can have limits, but find them and try to break past them,” Trent said. “And if you fall down, just get back up.”
While he’s still young, with many more years ahead of him to plan out his future, Trent already wants competing to be a lifelong pursuit. He said he has his sights aimed on competing in the 2020 Paralympics.
Trent’s story has inspired others, even attracting the attention of Beth Delorio, a marathoner who leads a team of para-athletes called TeamUp. She has made him the junior spokesman for the team.
Following a spinal injury that sidelined her in 2004 with foot drop, Deloria wanted to reach out to other athletes with the condition. The team is made up of adult and adolescents from around the country who encourage others with foot drop to overcome mobility issues and take back their lives.
Trent is the team’s first junior captain.
The Mid-Atlantic Challenged Sports Championships at Coonskin continue today and Saturday.