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March 27, 2014

TALKIN’ PREP SPORTS: Track and field all about fun for autistic javelin thrower Sam Dyson

CULLMAN — Growing up, our parents teach us that sports are simply supposed to be about fun.

Yet, at almost every athletic arena you stumble upon these days, it’s getting harder and harder to spot any boys and girls not solely concerned with winning, losing or overanalyzing their every result.

And, to that, I say thank goodness for kids like Sam Dyson.

Ask the junior what throwing the javelin for Good Hope is all about, and his answer is a refreshing one.

“I’d say it’s all fun and games,” Dyson said in his usual jolly manner. “I’m hoping to have fun.”

Dyson is autistic. That means he isn’t quite equipped with the same set of social skills as his friends or fellow competitors. What the Raider is equipped with, however, is an unfiltered joy and unmatched enthusiasm for the tasks he chooses to take on.

One- or two-word responses are the norm for Dyson. A hearty “uh huh” is among his particular favorites. Get him going about dinosaurs, though, and anyone close to the teen will tell you that he’s likely to talk for hours.

That revelation could have something to do with why Dyson enjoys his event of choice so much.

“It brings out my inner-caveman,” he said with a mile-wide smile. “You know how they hunt with spears? Well, the javelin is kind of similar.”

As Dyson’s special education aide from middle school, Good Hope coach Matt Heaton is very familiar with his new javelin thrower. The two were reunited when one of Good Hope’s veterans approached Heaton to gauge his interest in signing on another thrower. The coach, unsurprisingly, was “all for it.”

The only slight snag Heaton ran into early on was an inquisition from Dyson’s parents. They were worried that because their son wasn’t “lighting up the tape measurer,” there might not be a place for him to compete at meets.

While Heaton understood the concern, he didn’t let it deter Dyson’s involvement. In fact, the coach treated the situation exactly as he has with Elena Guevara, a first-year wheelchair racer and shot putter for the Lady Raiders.

“I said, ‘We’ll make a spot,’” Heaton recalled. “‘If he’s making an effort, I’ll make the effort, and he’ll be in an event.’”

Heaton has seen Dyson come miles since their days together at Good Hope Middle. Back then, Dyson used to take the elevator up the hill to the school. With some work, he became comfortable enough to take the steps.

“And here he is, throwing a javelin and competing with every other able-bodied student in the school,” Heaton said. “I’m proud of him for that.”

Dyson’s heave of 32’ at last Friday’s Cullman Classic placed him 50th in a field of 50, 13’9” behind the next-closest contestant.

Want to classify that performance as a loss? I kindly ask that you don’t.

Because the winner in this instance is the kid who had the most fun — and that was definitely Sam Dyson.

Cullman’s Walk for Autism and 5K Race to Solve the Puzzle will be April 12 at Wallace State. Early registration is $30 until April 1. Same-day registration will be $35. All proceeds will benefit the mission and projects of the Autism Society of Alabama. For more information or to register, visit www.walkforautismal.com or call local coordinator Rhonda Davis at 256-962-2208.   



% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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