By Moses Leos III
Like many track and field athletes, Wallace Middle School eighth grader Melanie Peters aspires to succeed in every event she participates in.
But unlike many of her able bodied peers, Peters, who suffers from spinabifida, has had to acquire all of her successes while confined to a wheelchair. Peters is a paraplegic and only has function of her upper body.
Despite her disability, Peters’ mother, Karryn, has seen her daughter persevere against all odds.
It’s that perseverance that led Peters to claim seven gold medals at the UCO Endeavor Games in Edmond, OK last weekend.
For Karryn, seeing the opportunities that are available for her daughter is “amazing.”
“It’s good to see what’s out there and what track and field has done for Melanie,” Peters said. “Exercise is important for her to be healthy and to be mobile. It’s changed her so much. She’s a different person since starting sports.”
Melanie’s story of perseverance began when she was diagnosed with a severe case of spinabifida in the womb. Karryn said her daughter wasn’t expected to survive the pregnancy due to the severity of her condition.
But Melanie survived, rounding out a group of triplets. Her show of will continued while growing up with her siblings. While she wasn’t as abled bodied, Karryn said her daughter had a drive that pushed her forward.
“When she was little, she watched her siblings start to crawl. Her brain told her she needed to do that, but her body wouldn’t allow it,” Karryn said. “But she tried to crawl.”
As she got older, Melanie gained freedom with her first wheelchair. Soon thereafter, she was drawn to the world of sports.
It was kick started by Larry Turner, who introduced Melanie to wheelchair tennis, then swimming.
From there, Melanie began to branch out to a variety of sports and opportunities that opened up for her. That includes playing sled hockey, along with going zip lining.
“The main thing is that she isn’t afraid to try something,” Karryn said.
But it’s track and field that holds a special place for Melanie, who has excelled enough to win the Junior Wheelchair Athlete of the Year award last week.
Turner helped usher her into track and field. She first competed at the Texas Regional Games three years ago.
Peters, who is grouped into the T-54 Class based on her disability, was placed into the 14 and under age group.
Karryn said her daughter “didn’t know what to expect” prior to competing. She, nor Melanie, expected the excitement and joy other fans showed to all competitors.
According to Karryn, the experience boosted her daughter’s self-esteem. The camaraderie of sports has also helped, as the athletes have an understanding among them, which allows them to bond.
“To see her face light up at the end of her first race was just amazing,” Karryn said. “It was not just making Mom and Dad proud, but she was proud and she was happy. She knew at a young age she did something big.”
Since then, Peters has steadily increased the number of events she participates in.
During the UCO games, Peters won gold medals in the 60, 100, 200 and 400-meter events, along with the shot-put, javelin and discus.
This was all done despite suffering a thumb injury during a race. While she wanted to quit, Karryn said she pressed forward and kept going.
“At the end of the day, when it comes down to the last event, she’s pretty wiped,” Karryn said.
Peters has also worked beyond challenges as well. Karryn said her daughter, who also has a learning disability, understands her differences from her peers. While she has social challenges, Karryn said she’s doing a “good job of getting through every day.”
She also overcame the loss of her mentor and coach Turner, who passed away roughly a year ago.
“She had some struggles going back to track meets without him there for her,” Karryn said.
Through it all, Peters continues to overcome. She has “every intention” of joining the Wallace Middle School eighth grade track and field team.
She ultimately hopes to compete in track and field in high school, where more opportunities are opening up for wheelchair athletes at the UIL level. In 2015, the UIL offered the 400-meter and shotput events at the track and field championships in Austin.
“It’s brand new and exciting,” Karryn said. “So many people are starting to see that these kids have amazing talent and athletic abilities, just like any other kid.”