Whether he's on the court, slopes or reservation, 2015 SPORTS 'N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss displays resilience and commitment.
Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss didn’t compete in this year’s National Junior Disability Championships (NJDC) in New Jersey, but he was there to support friends that did.
The 2015 SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year, completed a tennis and surfing clinic in San Diego one week before trekking across the country to support his friend and wheelchair basketball teammate Dago Saenz.
“My proudest moment so far is going to have to be receiving the SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year Award — as cheesy as it sounds — but it was really great,” the 16-year-old Hotchkiss says. “It further validates all the work I’ve been doing since my injury. It made it seem all the more real.”
As the 29th SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year recipient, Hotchkiss was presented with an engraved silver platter during the NJDC closing ceremonies in Iselin, N.J., in July. He’ll also receive a complementary subscription to SPORTS `N SPOKES and gets a brand new wheelchair courtesy of Box Wheelchairs.
Passionate About His Work
Despite sustaining a spinal-cord injury at the age of 11 during a head-on car accident, Hotchkiss has become a promising wheelchair basketball athlete, ski instructor and public speaker.
Hotchkiss recently helped lead his basketball team to a fourth-place finish during the 2015 National Wheelchair Basketball Association Championship Tournament averaging 19 points per game.
Off the court, Hotchkiss is a ski instructor for Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colo., and recently competed at the 2015 Nature Valley NASTAR National Championship. He is currently being recruited for the Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) national ski team, fancies himself a capable whitewater rafter and admits to wanting to be a stand-up comedian.
But, like many success stories, there are almost always periods of failure, discouragement and even tragedy. For Hotchkiss, the aftermath of his accident left him to cope with the emotional pain for his younger siblings, Amanda and Dante, who were both seriously injured in the accident and the heartbreak over the loss of his mother, Cassandar Yazzie-Hotchkiss.
From a young age, Hotchkiss had always been an active kid and enjoyed playing basketball and soccer.
“It was hard for me to go from being so active in sports and skiing to not,” he says. “I couldn’t shoot a basketball or kick a soccer ball anymore. It was really hard on me emotionally.”
Fortunately for Hotchkiss, he had the support of his loving father, Jason, family and friends as well as the strength and guidance of the Southern Ute/Southern Cheyenne and Caddo tribe members with whom he’s affiliated. It wasn’t long before he was introduced to the world of adaptive sports. His father researched countless adaptive sports organizations and sports opportunities before finding the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango.
Hotchkiss has since put his injury to work for him, allowing him to connect with others more easily.
“I can relate with a lot more people,” says Hotchkiss. “Then there were organizations like Adaptive Sports Association [which] helped teach me to ski and helped guide me through those first few years after my injury. And that’s really what I’d like to be for the American Indian kids on the reservation — a mentor for them to get out and go do stuff.”
Since his injury, Hotchkiss had a vision to bring accessible sports to American Indian youth and started a quest to research programs that awarded grants.
Hotchkiss soon learned of a Native American non-profit called Running Strong for American Indian Youth that had recently launched a program awarding grants to help members of the American Indian community achieve their dreams. The Dreamstarter (indianyouth.org/dreamstarter) program seemed a perfect fit.
“My whole reason for seeking grants was to start an adaptive sports program specifically for people on the reservations,” Hotchkiss says. “The Dreamstarter theme for the year just happened to be health and wellness. Dad and I figured we’d have a good chance of getting that grant … and we did.”
Hotchkiss was one of 10 grant recipients to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend a “Dreamstarter Academy.” The recipients, along with their mentor organizations, attended a four-day training clinic to help acquaint them with the program, do some leadership training and skills building and help strengthen their individual projects to ensure they’ll be successful.
Billy Mills, the gold medalist in the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, presented The Dreamstarter grants. He is also the co-founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Over the next five years, Running Strong will award 10 $10,000 grants to American Indian youths under age 30. The grants are inspired by the dream each young person has for his or her community. They then team up with a non-profit (mentor) to help implement the project. This was the first of the Dreamstarter Programs and Hotchkiss was named one of the first Dreamstarters.
“We started Dreamstarter to help youth overcome the poverty of dreams, and Noah is the perfect example of everything Dreamstarter stands for,” Mills says. “As an Olympian, as a leader of Running Strong for American Indian Youth and as a grandfather, I’m inspired by Noah’s resilience, bravery and commitment to improving the lives of Native [American] youth with disabilities. And I’m incredibly proud of his accomplishments as an athlete. Noah shows us that despite the challenges, dreams can guide us to build a strong future for ourselves and for our communities.”
Hotchkiss’ project, which he named the Tribal Adaptive Organization, will bring adaptive sports to American Indian reservations of the Southwest. His first clinic took place in August in Gallup, N.M., where he is a member of the Southwest Jr. Rollin Lobos basketball team.
Unlike Hotchkiss, many American Indian youths don’t have access to adaptive sports programs, the equipment or training facilities from which to participate. His purpose is to try and bring wheelchair basketball to the reservations so children with disabilities can participate in sports.
From a father’s perspective, Jason recalls his proudest moment happened a few months after rehab when they decided to try skiing. U.S. Paralympian Alana Nichols happened to be in town, and having heard about Hotchkiss’s story, approached him with all of her medals and placed them around his neck.
“There was this connection,” Jason recalls. “You know, you go through rehab and you’re around other sick people … but to see somebody who had been through a similar injury, and years later now living her dream … it was such a powerful moment for Noah. His attitude … for all of the counselors, and the rehab and the doctors … it was that ‘Alana moment’ where his perspective changed. It was a very awesome and powerful moment that I now see happening when Noah meets other people.”
About The Award
The SPORTS `N SPOKES (S’NS) Junior Athlete of the Year Award is replete with history spanning back to its inception in 1986. S’NS founders Cliff and Nancy Crase believed there needed to be an award that recognized junior athletes and based the award on Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Jack Gerhardt Award for adult athletes.
The winning athlete is awarded an engraved platter and a one-year subscription to S’NS magazine. The 2015 winner receives a custom built wheelchair courtesy of Box Wheelchairs.
Nominations are open for outstanding young athletes up to age 21, and can be submitted throughout the calendar year at sportsnspokes.com. Winners are announced during the Closing Ceremonies of the National Junior Disability Championships.