Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, along with Ramjit Steiner, middle, and Steve Toyoji, far right, were at College of San Mateo Tuesday to announce the school would be hosting the 2014 U.S. Paralympic National Championships in June.
Their tools of the trade are high-tech.
For Ramjit Steiner, it’s a fitted carbon-fiber running blade. For Steve Toyoji, a custom-made aerodynamic wheelchair made from airplane aluminum.
Steiner and Toyoji are two of upwards of 200 athletes who will be competing in the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field National Championships to be held June 20-23 at College of San Mateo, it was announced Tuesday.
The two athletes with Bay Area ties, along with U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, were present at Tuesday’s announcement at CSM’s state-of-the-art track facility. In addition to CSM’s track having, as Speier said — “a million-dollar view and a multi-million dollar facility” — the Mondo track also provides a premium surface for Paralympians.
“We love Mondo tracks just because they are low friction with low-rolling resistance on our tires,” Toyoji said. “So, that’s how you get those really fast times.”
When the community college installed the vulcanized rubber track in 2006, having it benefit landing the Paralympic National Championships was not even a blip on the radar for CSM head coach Joe Mangan.
The reason Mangan was a proponent for installing a Mondo track, which was more expensive than the base price for the more common full-pour polyurethane track, had much to do with Bulldogs’ blue. As with CSM’s previous polyurethane track, the natural color is red. So, with the additional cost of adding blue dye being exorbitant, the college opted for the blue Mondo track still used today.
The difference is night and day for Paralympians.
“(Polyurethane has) more friction, which may not be a big thing when you’re running, but the extra friction is (a big thing) for wheelchairs,” Mangan said.
According to Paralympics event director Cathy Sellers, the Paralympic committee was specifically looking for a facility on the West Coast as there has never been such a championship event in the region. Sellers said that, along the Mondo track, was the reason for choosing CSM over Stanford — albeit, the differing rental prices likely had something to do with it, Mangan said.
“I think it’s important to point out that this facility beat out Stanford, with good reason, to host these trials and I think we’re all very thrilled about it,” said Speier, D-San Mateo.
The manner in which Paralympics events are classified is quite specialized to accommodate athletes of differing disabilities. According to Sellers, there are five different classifications with even more subcategories. The main classifications are of athletes: who suffer from cerebral palsy, who are blind, who are intellectually impaired, who are amputees and who have spinal cord injuries.
Steiner, 23, is a single amputee who lost his right leg after being diagnosed with bone cancer. The sprinter grew up in Palo Alto and attended Gunn, where he was a football player and track runner. After suffering an ACL injury on the gridiron as a high school freshman, the cancer was discovered when he wasn’t healing properly after a long rehab. He eventually opted for amputation when he realized it was his best course of action in being able to compete again.
“I spent four years after being diagnosed with bone cancer, that not being able to run and not being active was not the life I wanted to live,” Steiner said. “So, I made the choice freshman year (of college) to go ahead with the amputation. I knew about the Paralympics and I knew I could compete again and come out here and run. I didn’t think we’d be back in San Mateo so soon, so that’s exciting.”
Now one of approximately 50 people fitted with a vector-socket running blade at UCSF, Steiner has his sights set on earning his first National Championship medal. Competing in the 100-meter sprint, the 200 and the long jump, Steiner uses a state-of-the-art prosthesis with the first-ever hydraulic knee called the Ottobock 3S80.
So, Steiner and Toyoji won’t be going up against one another, even though they both compete in the 100, as Toyoji competes in the wheelchair subcategory for spinal cord injuries.
After being diagnosed at 8 months old with traverse myelitis, a disorder which causes inflammation of the spinal cord, Toyoji got involved with Paralympic competition as a 15 year old in his hometown of Seattle. Now a San Francisco resident who, as he said, trains “on the streets of San Francisco,” Toyoji is a seasoned veteran on wheels in more ways than one.
As a middle-distance competitor, Toyoji said he didn’t mind so much when the Paralympics made helmets mandatory for all competitors last year. Previously, only competitors who had to change lanes — generally in long-distance events — were required to wear protective headwear. Since the rule change, Toyoji has made a natural transition in needing to wear one anyway while buzzing through city streets.
Toyoji has also medaled in various competitions dating back to 2005 and as recently as the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships with a bronze in the 1,500. He also competed in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
But the 28 year old, who rides a red custom-made Invacare chair because red is patriotic, is still hungry for the thrill of victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” Toyoji said. “You put all that work and all that time into something that you really love. Just to be able to show it, it’s more about yourself when you’re on the podium. … It kind of legitimizes it all, to have all that hard work pay off. But also, at the same time, you want more. You want to make it to the next step. If you get one gold medal, you want to get more gold medals. So it’s a weird feeling (to medal). It’s motivational but also relieving at the same time.”