Track Athletes Race into Invictus Games

Track and field competitors were ready to roll Sunday at the York Lions Stadium in Toronto during the 2017 Invictus Games

By Brittany Martin

Paralyzed Veterans of America Gateway Chapter member Amy Dotson competes in a track and field event at the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

Despite 80-plus degree temperatures, track and field competitors were ready to roll Sunday at the York Lions Stadium in Toronto during the 2017 Invictus Games.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears started out strong in his second Invictus Games appearance, placing first for Team USA in the men’s IT4 100. The 27-year-old California native and double amputee finished in 16.85 and later notched two more first-place finishes, recording 28.43 in the 100 and 54.63 in the 400. He will also compete in the men’s IT4 1500 today, as well as rowing and wheelchair rugby later this week.

“[I felt like I did] pretty good,” Sears said following the 100. “First race, first race jitters, always have to shake those out. But I think from now on, it’ll be pretty good for the rest of the day. Once I hit the 200 and the 400, it’ll be a piece of cake for the 1500.”

Injured in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, Sears got into wheelchair racing through his coach, former Paralympic wheelchair racer Saul Mendoza.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears (left) races in track and field at his second Invictus Games where he placed first for Team USA in the men’s IT4 100. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

“I went to Marine Corps trials camp and he said, ‘Hey, you want to try this out?’ And I said, ‘Well, it looks kinda funny but I’ll try it out,'” Sears says. “And I tried it out and just fell in love with it.”

He calls track his “go-to sport.”

“I trained a little bit harder this year because I knew I was coming back this year, so I wanted to try to better myself from last year, beat my PRs [personal records] and all that,” Sears says.

Setting personal records was also on the mind of Paralyzed Veterans of America Gateway Chapter member Amy Dotson.

While Dotson placed fifth in her first wheelchair race of the day, the women’s IT4 100 meters, she was pleased that she was able to stay in her lane and set a new personal record at 31.07. The 40-year-old, who has multiple sclerosis, served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2015.

“My first competition ever, I ended up in the grass and didn’t know how to steer back, so I stayed in my own lane the whole time, so that was good,” she says.

A first-time Invictus athlete, Dotson also competed in the 200, finishing in 59.39, and the 400, finishing in 2:00.48.

“It is a phenomenal opportunity. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly,” Dotson says. “It doesn’t matter what country everyone is from, everyone is helping each other. Last year, I watched it, and I was bound and determined to come to this, whether I was in the stands or on the field. I got the call, and I was so excited.”

She says the hardest part of competing for her is dealing with the heat.

“I’m hoping to work up my endurance to be able to do longer competitions, and I’m wanting to be faster, of course,” she says.

Dotson got into wheelchair racing at a camp through the Air Force Wounded Warrior program in 2015. Last year, she competed at the Warrior Games in West Point, N.Y.

“I kind of laughed because I didn’t think I could do sports anymore, and they put me in one of these race chairs and I was able to go around the track,” she says. “They put me in a recumbent bike. That was the first time I’d ridden a bicycle in over 30 years. And then they got me in the pool, and I discovered that I could still move without worrying about falling. So the pool is kind of my safe place. It’s my second home, but this is exciting as well.”

For Dotson, competing at the Invictus Games has shown her that she can still do things she didn’t think she was able to do anymore. She is able to push herself and focus on what she can still do instead of what she can’t do, and it’s made her excited to learn new things.

“My starts are usually a little rough, and I’ve developed some bad habits training on my own, so I’ve learned to stay on top of the rim instead of below the rim at the start,” Dotson says. “And it helped a little bit … I’m not doing it quite right yet.”

So far, she’s enjoyed being able to reconnect with previous team members from the Warrior Games, meet new people and talk to athletes from other countries. It all gives her motivation to work harder.

“We have some extremely fast folks on our team, so it’s giving me something to look forward to, because I want to be able to keep up with them at some point,” she says.


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