Jason Robinson Continues To Improve, Impress Ahead Of States

When the New York State outdoor championship meet is contested on Friday and Saturday at Middletown High School (Watch LIVE), only one athlete will be wearing the green Westmoreland High School uniform.

Westmoreland High school, located in Westmoreland, a suburb of Utica, is a small school with fewer than 200 students. It's classified as a C-2 school in Section 3. It has a small outdoor track and field squad. And there is no indoor team.

Jason Robinson, a sophomore, qualified for the meet by taking the 800, 1,600, and 3,200-meter events at last week's Section 3 qualifier at Cicero North High School.  All were done in the wheelchair division.  He's sort of a pioneer in those regards.  Whereas he was the first to compete at the Spring State Meet in this division, 2019 will see three female athletes competing as well.

Jason Robinson has overcome a great deal. 

Born with a form of spina bifida, Robinson has become a national-class wheelchair athlete.

He's a New York State champion, an All-American, and has represented his country in international competition.

And he's improving.

This past weekend, at the Section 3 championship meet at Cicero North High School, Robinson qualified for the State meet by taking the Adaptive Boys' 1,600 in 3:57.15, and adding two personal-best performances in the 800 (1:54.84), and the 3,200 (8:02.06)

He warmed up for the State qualifier by taking the same three events the week before at the Section 3, Class C-2 championship meet, winning the 800 in 2:04.69, the 1,600 in 4:19.11, and the 3,200 in 8:45.96.

He's undefeated this spring, lowering his personal 400-meter best to 59.78 at the Oneida Invitational, and turning in a personal-best time of 3:56.79 at the Johnstown Invite for 1,600 meters.

That's really nothing compared to what he's done in the past.

Family and relatives were amazed when he crawled up two flights of stairs at age two. And fortunately, he has parents who have nurtured and harnessed his talents ever since.

He's competed at the Fifth Avenue mile in New York, and various road races in central New York, starting his road racing career five years ago with the Boilermaker 15K in Utica.

Last summer, at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports World Games in Athlone, Ireland, Robinson came home with some heavy hardware, including a silver medal in the 1,500-meters (3:33.08) and four bronzes.

Robinson speaks modestly about his achievements, and one gets the impression that the titles don't mean as much as the message that he's sending out to the world, drawing attention to wheelchair and Paralympic competition.

With no indoor season, Robinson concentrates on training- and hitting the books. He's an honor student who brings the same self-motivational energy and drive to athletics. 

And with nurturing parents to harness his interests and talents, Robinson gravitated toward sports, taking part in all the wheelchair contests- T-ball, basketball, hockey, and soccer.

The Boilermaker 15K in Utica was his first big test, and Robinson was hooked.

The problem was- where to find competition?

Two years ago, he won a petition to compete at the New York State Public High School championships.

There are instances where he is the only wheelchair competitor, but Robinson can still score a point for Westmoreland by hitting a time set by the national body. He starts on the outside lane, trails for a few moments, and then takes over.

When there are multiple competitors, he can score under the 10-8-6-4-2-1 system. He's hoping for a crowd at Middletown this weekend.

He trains daily with the Westmoreland team. Boys' coach Neal Bartlett, in his sixth season, says, "I've learned a lot from Jason."

A typical training day might consist of a workout with the team, plus some short "sprints" and technique work, which includes rounding the curves at maximum speed. Controlling the wheelchair at top speed is no easy feat. And several times a week, Robinson is up early, getting an indoor workout before school

Robinson is also affiliated with the North Jersey Navigators, a paralympic club based out of Bayonne under the tutelage of Jimmy Cuevas, who gives workout plans to Robinson and Bartlett.

"We mix it up quite a bit," said Bartlett. "This is my second year with Jason, so we do the workouts from Jimmy Cuevas, then drop down and do some starts and sprints."

Robinson had been referred to Cuevas by someone who had seen him compete in Boston.

Cuevas, who has a child with spina bifida, has been working with Robinson for five years, and like any good coach, decided that a long-term approach was best.

"It's a gradual process," said Cuevas, who also serves as a volunteer coach for U.S. Paralympic track and field. "Jason is 14, and is learning and understanding the workouts. We're just starting to build up the volume and intensity. I think you'll see breakout performances in 2019 and next year."

There's constant communication between Cuevas and his prize pupil. "He works very hard, takes the training seriously, and has short and long-term goals."

With winter weather a problem in central New York, Robinson heads indoors, where he has what might be loosely called a "wheelchair treadmill."

If the weather turns for the better, then he can hit the hilly roads, where dad Jamie follows on a bicycle.

The Westmoreland outdoor season consists of a few dual meets, plus come invitationals.

In most meets, it's "race within a race," with no other wheelchair athletes.

But as in life, not everything goes to plan.

At the Ridgewood (N.J.) 10K on Memorial Day, Robinson experienced a flat tire on one wheel, causing him to stop and lose almost 20 minutes. Just as one does not drive a car with a flat tire for fear of damaging the rim or axle, one does not continue on a wheelchair with a flat.

There's a price to pay for all this. The Robinsons have five children, with four still living at home. 

Mom Erin says, "we want to give all our kids the best, and Jason is no different from any other kid."

But equipment and wheelchairs are expensive, and travel costs are enormous. Erin Robinson says that "the community has been tremendous in their support of Jason. They raised all the money to send him to Ireland last summer.'

And Robinson also gets help from the Kelly Brush Foundation and grants through the Challenged Athlete program.

What's next for this budding athlete?

Robinson is not slowing down after the interscholastic season ends.

He's hitting the roads, with two races already scheduled. He'll take part in the Cedartown race in Rome, Georgia on July 2, and then head for the big Peachtree 10K race in Atlanta on July 4. All the big names, people who Robinson has looked up to as role models, will start at Peachtree.

Marcel Hug, Jason Romanchuk, Kurt Fearnley, Tatyanna McFadden, and Manuela Schar are among the many international wheelchair athletes scheduled to compete.

Then it's off to Eden Prairie, Minnesota for the Junior National meet ten days later, where he hopes to qualify for another international trip, this time to Switzerland and possibly the Paralympic Junior Pan-Am Games in Peru. There are also tentative plans to compete at the Falmouth road race in August.

"Right now, everything is iffy. I have to do well, and hit times, and then it's up to the USA selection committee to pick me for the team."

But that's only a small part of the bigger picture.

Hopefully, says Robinson, "I'd like to be part of the scene where I can line up with the top athletes on the big stage. I want to send a message to other wheelchair athletes, and bring awareness to the fact that we can do anything. I want to be that role model for others to follow."