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Disabled athlete inspires teammates at Wiregrass High

Josh Melendez, 16, a junior at Wiregrass Ranch High school, runs track and field and is hoping to try out for the Wiregrass cross country team in the spring.  He has coped with a mild case of cerebral palsy since birth.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Josh Melendez, 16, a junior at Wiregrass Ranch High school, runs track and field and is hoping to try out for the Wiregrass cross country team in the spring. He has coped with a mild case of cerebral palsy since birth.

WESLEY CHAPEL

His right hand moves uncontrollably as he talks.

The corresponding foot bounces as he walks.

Joshua Melendez knows he's different.

At birth, the 16-year-old junior and athlete at Wiregrass High School suffered a stroke that affected the right side of his body. He is classified as having cerebral palsy, but a mild case.

"There a lot of kids with his condition that are in much worse shape," Josh's mother, Leanne Melendez, said. "For him, it's frustrating, but he's done well adapting to this type of life. Knowing his condition at birth, we worried about what he would be able to do. But we've watched him overcome this thing over and over."

Having had the condition since birth, Melendez has been able to cope with his handicap and learn how to do things. He has mastered a one-handed shoe tie, learned to cook, shot put and throw the javelin, and even play golf.

"It doesn't really bother me to have a disability," Melendez said. "Maybe I can't run as fast as other people, but I can still do it. Winning is nice, but it isn't everything."

Melendez has been competing with a program called BlazeSports since he was 10 years old. The organization is dedicated to working with handicapped kids to help them compete in sports they enjoy, setting up events and leagues that allow the kids to compete against other kids with disabilities.

For Melendez, the confidence earned in BlazeSports fuels him for a push to compete at the high school level. He currently competes on the Wiregrass junior varsity team.

"BlazeSports has done a lot for me," Melendez said. "I've been able to go to national competitions four times. Now, I have (track) coach (Chris) Loth here (at Wiregrass). He started me off slow and worked me up to running longer distances. I'm really thankful that I've got people around me who support me."

Having won various events at national competitions with Blaze­Sports, Melendez has shown he is a good athlete and has targeted the next Paralympics in 2012 as his next mission.

"I'll just keep doing my best," Melendez said. "I just have to keep working at it and trying to get better. Sometimes it's hard to try to do everything, but I just have to keep doing it and maybe I'll get there."

At Wiregrass, Melendez has found his place on the track team as his teammates have rallied around him to help him train.

"We started the season with the goal being that Josh could finish a race," Loth said. "By the end of the year, he was finishing them within the time frame that we'd hoped."

What Melendez's presence has meant to the team is just as tangible as what the team means to Melendez.

"He's put it into perspective for all of us," Loth said. "He's a great kid and the kids have come together to support him. Usually, at the end of a race the junior varsity kids run after the varsity kids and some of my top runners have started to find him toward the end of his races and run with him for the last 800 meters."

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Fast Facts

Joshua Melendez

Age: 16

Grade: Junior

School: Wiregrass High School

Favorite Sport: Football

Etc: Melendez has set his sights on more than just athletics as he hopes to attend college and settle down after that. "He's told me numerous times that he wants to go to school, graduate, get a job, buy a house, get married and start a family," Leanne Melendez said. He has also been recognized by the U.S. Paralympic Program as an Emerging Elite Athlete.

Fast facts

Joshua Melendez

Age: 16

Grade: Junior

School: Wiregrass Ranch High School

Favorite sport: Football

Etc.: Melendez has set his sights on more than just athletics as he hopes to attend college and settle down after that. "He's told me numerous times that he wants to go to school, graduate, get a job, buy a house, get married and start a family," Leanne Melendez said. He has also been recognized by the U.S. Paralympic Program as an Emerging Elite Athlete.

Disabled athlete inspires teammates at Wiregrass High 12/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:43pm]

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