The bus ride home from Middletown back to Falconer is a shade over five hours and it wasn't long into the journey before Rayven Sample was plotting and planning, looking forward to 2020.
The Cassadaga junior was part of the quartet that had, a short time earlier in the day, won the Division 2 4x4 crown at the NYSPHSAA Championships. Yet, he was already moving on to what he and his teammates might be able to accomplish when he is a senior. That Sample was already on to the next thing didn't come as a surprise to Nick Spry, the coach of the combined squad at Falconer-Cassadaga Valley.
In fact, there is very little that Sample can do that will shock Spry, who has come to expect amazing things from the 16-year-old. Sample has proven not only to be one of the most incredible track and field stories coming out of Section 6 and western New York State - his is a tale that is simply incredible regardless of what circumstances are attached to its telling.
Sample was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital joint contracture that has causes stiffening of his joints in his hands and wrists. Some joints have a small range of motion, others none at all, leaving his hands and wrists twisted at what appears to be an uncomfortable angle.
According to some experts, the condition can be found in as few as one in 12,000 people yet Sample hasn't let arthrogryposis become his identity. Rather he has faced that challenge head on, as he and his teammates [Collin Barmore and Austin Johns from Cassadaga and Falconer's Bryce Baglia] did at Middletown High, where they ran a personal-best 3:21.11.
"We make states, we're state champions in the 4x4 and riding home with him on the bus, and he was already talking about what he wants to do next year," Spry said. "He wants to know what he can start doing to get faster next year. He's extremely dedicated and motivated. He tries things that athletes with normal capabilities wouldn't even attempt."
Sample, whose first name comes from his Seneca heritage, runs the leadoff leg of the relay. He has the speed - he finished 12th in the state in the 400 after turning in a personal-best 50.27 in the state qualifier - and by running leadoff, it limits the handoff and receiving of the baton to just once.
"We figure it all out the best we can," Sample said. "At the end of the day, we get the job done and get the best time we can."
Sample has been "getting the job done" throughout high school, ultimately putting his love of soccer aside to concentrate solely on running. He's gone through surgeries and procedures on his wrists and hands, the last of which came when he was getting set for middle school, never using his disability as an excuse or a reason for doing poorly. Then again, he's never had to.
Interview by Ellie Decker - Section6Runs
"I've worked from a very young age to get where I am now," Sample said. "And when I'm on the track, I don't even remember having it [the disability]. When I'm running, I'm just doing what feels right and running fast.
"If I do encounter troubles, I have such an amazing team around me, whether it's at school or at home. Cassadaga graduates about 60 kids and Falconer about 80, so everyone has grown up with each other and they know each other. Everyone is so willing to help and they are understanding. Even the new people I meet through track, sometimes I forget I am disabled because things get done so easily."
Sample says he'll need help changing the spikes in his shoes or getting his socks on or tying his shoes tighter. The bond he has formed with his teammates, though, has proven to be of immeasurable importance to him. That some of his teammates go to a different school doesn't impact them, either personally or running the relay.
"We're all just relaxing and hanging out," Sample said. "Bryce said that it took him a second [over the weekend] to realize that his best friends aren't even from his school anymore. We forget that we come from different schools."
The tight-knit community certainly makes it easier for a combined track team. It also makes it easier for Sample, who, as he said, doesn't have to worry about anyone staring or giving him sideway glances because they have all been together so long. It also helps that he has such a strong home life.
Sample was raised primarily by his grandparents, who adopted him when he was a youngster. Sample's father died when he was 9 and his mother was never in the picture so he spent most of his time with his grandparents, who were there for him as he made the trip to Shriner's Hospital in Erie, Pa. for surgeries. They were also with him when he was rehabbing and going through physical therapy.
"He didn't grow up with a chip on his shoulder [as a result] of losing his dad at a young age," said his grandmother Kathy Sample. "He never let that or the handicap get to him. It was never 'Why me?' It never stopped him from doing anything. He excelled in everything. Sometimes other people would make remarks but Rayven never let his handicap get to him."
He doesn't plan on letting anything get to him in the future either. Sample wants to go to college and run at the DI or DII level while studying something in the field of science or psychiatry.
"Science has always interested me but I also like the idea of helping people with their problems," said Sample, who added that a realistic goal for him next year is to run a 47.99 in the 400. "It gives me an emotional boost to help people turn their lives around. And with science, I like pushing the collective of human knowledge higher."