By Martin Cleary
PARALYMPICS BOUND: Growing up, Austin Ingram of Petawawa, ON., had an athletic group of friends. They played a variety of different sports, but rarely at the competitive level.
When he was in Grade 8 at Valour School, he knew he was a fast runner. But he kept that rather quiet and you could see spurts of it on the soccer field as he moved about from offence to defence as a midfielder.
One day, someone in his athletic circle challenged Ingram, who has a visual impairment affected by light, to show his speed. The upcoming Renfrew County District School Board track meet would be the perfect setting.
“Someone dared me to do it. It was intentional, positive peer pressure,” said Ingram, who raced the boys’ 100 and 200 metres, scored two first-place finishes and broke the Renfrew school board record in both sprints.
“I knew I was the fastest kid in the school. But when your school has 400 kids and you’re in a small town, what does it matter? I figured I would be decent.
“Everyone told me I broke the county record (100 metres), but it didn’t feel like that. (The dare) was a collective effort. They laughed at me. I think they knew what would happen, but they didn’t let me in on it.”
In retrospect, it was a good thing that Ingram accepted the dare because today he’s at a Canadian team training camp in Gifu, Japan, preparing for his first Paralympic Games, which run Aug. 24 to Sept. 6 in Tokyo.
Ingram, now 19, will run the heats and anticipates a spot in the final for the T13 class men’s 100 metres on Aug. 29 and the universal men’s 4×100 relay on Sept 3.
Despite an erratic training schedule and no competitions in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ingram is inspired by his performance in the straightaway sprint at the 2019 world championships.
In his men’s 100-metre final at the worlds, he finished in fourth place and missed the bronze medal by the blink of an eye.
“It was painful missing the podium by one one-hundredth of a second,” he signalled.
While that result didn’t earn him a medal, his personal-best time of 10.99 seconds allowed him to be named as one of the top 16 male and female athletes to be selected to Canada’s team for the Paralympic Summer Games.
Ingram said it was “a relief” to have his name on that exclusive list, especially after struggling with the training restrictions presented by the pandemic and a back injury last September.
When he returned to competition this spring, it was a struggle. Ingram was running times between 11.54 and 11.32 for his first seven meets, which included the Canadian championships in Montreal.
But he elevated his game this month and lowered his times to more encouraging levels. At two Twilight meets organized by the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility, he twice ran 11.21.
During the Athletics Ontario U20 championships, he ran 11.18 against able-bodied sprinters in the heats and 11.10 in the final (sixth). In his last race before heading to Gifu, he ran 11.08 at a Twilight meet.
“My goal is a couple of medals,” Ingram said in a recent interview. “I missed the podium (at worlds) and I give full credit to those ahead of me. I threw the race away.
“My form wasn’t good. I chose in the middle of the race to look over my shoulder. I didn’t dip at the end. They were rookie mistakes I can’t afford to make at this stage. I’ll definitely right that wrong.”
In the leadup to the 2019 worlds, the Les Coureurs De Bois Club runner had established himself as a top sprinter in the class for athletes with visual impairments who can see the lines that mark the track lanes and don’t require a guide.
He won the 100 metres at World Para Athletics Grand Prix meets in Tempe, Arizona, 11.51, in the spring and in Paris, 11.09. Ingram also motored to a 11.07 at the Athletics Ontario U20 championships.
The T13 Canadian record holder in the 100 and 200 metres and a three-time 100-metre and two-time 200-metre national champion, Ingram also has won three OFSAA high school visually-impaired titles (2017-19).
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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