Nathan Dewitt uses natural talent and determination to qualify for London Paralympic Games
By Nathan Rumohr
Coaches and therapists told Nathan Dewitt early in his wheelchair-racing days that he had talent, and that if he kept working hard he could one day compete in the Paralympic Games.
The 21-year-old parishioner at St. Matthews in Surrey never quite believed those words until he qualified for the Canadian Paralympic team this year.
"It was one those goals I didn't think I would actually fulfill," Dewitt said. But the humble Surrey resident was lauded for his ability early in his career, winning the Avche Pinkard Rookie of the Year Award (Wheelchair Race Series) and named the B.C. Athlete with a Disability of the Year in 2007.
While Dewitt was seen as one of Canada's best wheelchair racers, his road to London wasn't without adversity.
Born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, Dewitt requires a shunt to stop spinal fluid pressure from building up in his brain. Dewitt's shunt has been replaced 19 times; six of those times have taken place over the last two years, while the Surrey resident has been working to qualify for the Paralympics.
His most serious shunt replacement surgery came last year at the Canadian Nationals in Calgary. Dewitt didn't make it to the track.
"I knew I had problems the whole year, but it all hit at nationals," recalled Dewitt. "I felt this would set me back and I wouldn't be able to qualify for London."
The experience tested Dewitt's determination, but with the help of James Hustvedt, his coach, Dewitt trained hard during the winter and posted his personal best time at the Swiss Nationals in May. He also placed third at the event in the 200-metre race.
The strong showing in Switzerland led to an invitation from Team Canada to compete in the 100- and 200-metre races in London's Olympic Stadium.
Dewitt gives his coach a lot of credit for his success.
"We have an awesome relationship," Dewitt said of Hustvedt, who has coached Dewitt since 2007. "He is very easygoing, and we can talk about anything."
Hustvedt tailored workouts for Dewitt while he was recovering from his shunt operations. Like any good coach Hustvedt also pushed Dewitt to "push through the pain."
Dewitt also received some last-minute encouragement before he left for London Aug. 21. Earlier in the month he and his twin brother Brenndon had visited Royal Columbian Hospital, where they were born and immediately placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
"The RCH Foundation thought that my story of being born at just 27 weeks old and making it to the Paralympics would offer some of the families who currently have babies in the NICU some hope," Dewitt wrote on his blog NathanDewitt2012.blogspot.ca.
At Royal Columbian "I was blown away with what they had in store for me! When I first arrived I was met by one of the head nurses who had taken care of Brenndon and me. After 21 years she still remembered us."
As Nathan and Brenndon entered the NICU, parents and hospital staff applauded the Paralympian and took pictures. The nurses had decorated a room in a Canadian Olympic theme, complete with a flag and a Canadian-theme cake.
"I wasn't used too so much attention, and everyone wanted to see me and talk to me," recalled Dewitt, who normally prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
Following his lifelong practice, Dewitt is going to take his Paralympic experience in stride.
"I'm going take the event in sections: first shoot to win my heats, and go from there," he said. "I'm still young, so hopefully there will be more chances."