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Guest blog by Melisa Rehm
In honor of the Sochi Paraolympics starting tomorrow; I wanted to share a little bit about a former teammate of mine who has been such an inspiration to me over the years. His ability and drive to Overcome All and continue to compete for what matters most in his life is something I hope you can all draw a bit of motivation from as well. Meet James Ortiz.
If my memory serves me correctly, as a member of the Texas State Cross Country and Track team you were one of our top people to score in most every meet and/or event. It was obvious that you had talent, but your work ethic and dedication to training was admirable as well.
For our readers who don’t know your story, can you give us a little background?
James: I am currently Head Coach for the Colby Community College Men’s Track & Cross Country programs in Colby, KS. My running programs are currently top-10 nationally in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). I have been coaching at the collegiate since my graduation from Texas State University in December 2007. At Texas State I was a captain of the Men’s Track & Field and Cross Country programs, was a two-time All-Southland Conference athlete on the track and still currently hold the university record in the 1500 meter run (3:48.35). The summer heading into my senior year I was riding a bicycle to summer school when I got into an accident with a garbage truck that resulted in amputation of my lower right leg.
How long have you been competing?
I have been running most of my life. I began competing in junior high, competed through high school and in college but took 5 years off after my accident. I had to take time off because of how severe my accident was. In 2012, I started competing again on the track and in 2013 I set the 1500m world record for my disability category.
The summer before your senior year you were involved in a serious accident. So severe that they had to amputate part of one of your legs. I remember hearing this news and feeling devastated because you were such a great runner with so much potential. Though I distinctly remember after visiting you in the hospital that your spirits seemed so much more hopeful than what I anticipated. Can you tell us a little bit about how you felt when you were given the news that your leg was to be amputated?
Since running was my life and I had just lost my leg, immediately I felt like my life was over. Even though I was alive, I felt like I was dead.
Most people who have experienced similar situations go down a path of depression and never compete again. At what moment did you decide that you would not let this define you or your future?
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had two choices in life. I could sit in my hospital bed and keep crying or find the positives in my life and move on. God has a plan for me and I knew it wasn’t for me spend the rest of my dwelling on the situation.
Who was your biggest inspiration at getting back up and becoming more?
My inspiration was my family, my friends and my teammates. They all believed in me even before I started believing in myself. At the time I didn’t even know if I would walk again and they all knew I would run again. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
I follow you on Twitter and see that you are not only competing again, dabbling in a bit of triathlon and perhaps one day hope to make it to the parapolympics? What’s your training like now?
Training has been tough this year but I am still getting it in. Finding a balance between work, family and training has been a struggle. I always put my athletes ahead of my own personal training. The way I see it is I directly affect the future of these 20-25 young men that I work with and that is more important than my own training. Then when I have free time from work, I want to spend it with my son. Let’s just say this season I have had quite a few late night runs on the treadmill and rides on the indoor trainer. The goal is still a new T44 1500m world record on the track.
I’ve heard it said before, “Turn your obstacles into opportunities.” I’d say that you are doing just that, not only by competing every day in your athletic goals, but also as a head cross county and track coach for Colby Community College, being an active husband and dad, and inspiring so many others along the way. Is there anything else you would like people to know? Words of encouragement? Something that inspires you the most?
Finding positives in your life is so important. One positive people need to remember in life is that there is always someone who believes in you. If it’s not a family member or a friend, then remember that God believes in you. What drives you to truly Compete Every Day in all areas of your life? As a former student-athlete and now a coach, it’s important to learn that if athletes can carry over their determination to improve themselves from athletics into their everyday life, their lives will change for the better.
This week James and his Track team are traveling to NY for Indoor Nationals. We wish them safe travels and all the best in their events. Today will challenge you, push you, & sometimes, bring you to your knees. Obstacles rise before you in the form of challengers, dream crushers, and rejection. There is no easy road to victory. But for those who have chosen to compete every day, there is only one response: Compete and overcome.