Christopher High brought one of the largest contingents of para athletes to this year’s CIF State Track and Field Championships, and in the process made history.
The girls team of seniors Ella Rodriguez and Sydney Saulo and junior Isabella Browne won the para ambulatory division, and senior Ashton Pluckhan had four fifth-place finishes to lead the para boys team to a runner-up finish in the Championships which were held May 27-28 at Buchanan High in Clovis.
The moment wasn’t lost on Rodriguez, who broke her own state meet record in winning the shot put with a personal-record throw of 31 feet, 1/2 inches, and also captured the 100-meter dash in 16.05 seconds. In the latter race, Browne took third in 17.49 and Saulo fourth in 20.04.
Rodriguez, who will attend the University of Arizona in the fall, competed at State as a freshman but didn’t have any teammates.
This time she had three, and it made the experience all the more fulfilling.
“I remember holding up my hands when I threw 31 feet and they along with (Christopher coach Jeff) Myers were all celebrating off the side to the fence,” she said. “And I was kind of dancing and it was kind of a cool moment. Comparing it to freshman year when I went by myself, for this year to have teammates that I could encourage and to back me up and to work for each other was just a great feeling. To be around people I love while I was competing and supporting each other during warmups was rewarding.”
Browne won the girls 400 meters in 1:36.64 and Saulo took second in 1:43.40. The two also competed in the 200, with Browne finishing second in 39.07 and Saulo third in 43.56.
Pluckhan had four fifth-place finishes, including the 100 (15.13), 200 (34.21) and 400 (1:20.03). Rodriguez said being able to compete in the Central Coast Section Championships a week prior to State was a huge boost, both mentally and physically. This was the first time ever ambulatory and wheelchair races were incorporated into the CCS Championships.
“It impacted our way of having confidence going into State and how we’re going to perform knowing the week before that we still got it,” she said. “Getting those final marks gives you some confidence, so that was important.”
Rodriguez appreciated the fact that Myers gently pushed the CCS to incorporate para ambulatory races into the Championships. When Rodriguez was a freshman, she served as a volunteer at the event because she couldn’t compete in it.
“I’m really thankful for coach Myers pushing CCS to let para athletes compete this year,” she said. “It was a really cool experience. I got to compete and went on to set a new state record and CCS was great preparation in doing that.”
Rodriguez hopes this year’s Christopher para team will serve as a trailblazer of sorts and inspire additional para athletes to compete in the years to follow. Browne will be the lone returnee for next year, but she could be joined by some newcomers.
“Christopher is the reigning state champ for female para so I think it’ll bring a little more competition from around the state and hopefully Christopher will be the state champion next year, too,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez selected Arizona because of its neuroscience and cognitive science program. She was also recruited to play for the Wildcats’ women’s wheelchair basketball team. One thing is for certain: as she starts the next chapter of her life in Tucson, Rodriguez won’t soon forget her experience competing for the CHS para team.
“Helping my teammates train was one of my best experiences of high school,” she said. “I’ll always remember that bond we had.”