LEXINGTON — Megan Haring leans forward on her track chair, her elbows pointed as she rests her hands on the wheels, keeping her eyes focused on the 400-meter track in front of her.
Other students run by on the outside tracks, giving her enough room in her designated area for practice.
Her father, Kevin Haring, stands on the Lexington High School football field with a stopwatch in hand. There’s a long pause, the sound of the track runners’ stomps pounding onto the hard gravel as they run by to fill the brief silence, before he says, “Go!”
Haring, a seventh-grade student at Lexington Middle School, joined the track team for the 2020 season despite having spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.
“I’ve always wanted to run, and since I can’t use my legs, it’s a great alternative, I guess,” the 13-year-old said.
Participating in track and field runs in the Haring family. Kevin haring ran during his high school years and now both his daughters, Megan and her older sister Maddie are participating, too.
“It’s just the social aspect and stuff like that. You know, it’s really important for kids and adults to have good interactions with other people,” Kevin Haring said.
With an opportunity for new experiences, building more upper body strength, getting to be with her friends (who also run track) and making new ones, Megan had plenty of reasons to want to participate as well.
Her parents rented a track chair for her up until June, and they had to take a class on how to use the chair properly.
Jeff Meyer, Haring’s coach, creates Megan’s schedule every day of what she needs to do. Haring plans on wheeling the 100 and eventually the 400. She has a personal goal of wanting to break 30 seconds with a current average of 42.
Two things Haring said she needs to work on most are her turns and making sure to stay in her lane.
Pediatrician Katherine Steingass, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said it’s important to encourage children with disabilities to be as physically active as possible and join sports.
“I think it really allows them to do more typical kid things and try not to always be focusing on their medical condition and give them opportunities to interact with peers and be successful,” Steingass said.
One year ago, Steingass said Nationwide Children's Hospital in southeast Ohio had seen up to 170 patients under the age of 13 with spina bifida. She tells parents with children who are able to give their child the opportunity for traditional or non-traditional sports.
“It’s associated with better functional long-term outcomes as far as graduating from school, going to college and getting jobs,” Steingass explained.
Although the coronavirus has put everything to a screeching halt, including sports, Haring still hopes she’ll get a chance to compete this season and goes out to the track to practice, according to Haring’s mother Heather.
“For her, it’s such a social thing where she’s with her friends,” Heather Haring said. “And even though they don’t practice a lot together, she’s at least still a part of a team, and I think that’s what’s the most important thing for her.”
With a large support system behind her and many more opportunities ahead, this is only the beginning for Megan.
“Her attitude is so good about everything and she’s still willing to work at it, get out there and have fun,” Heather Haring said. “Even if she doesn’t get to meet, which would be a super big bummer, I think she still knows she’s got quite a few years that she can work at it.”