Year 11 Papamoa College athlete Jaxon Woolley’s goal is to compete for New Zealand at the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
Jaxon has just completed an outstanding summer in athletics, breaking sprinting records in theT38 category he competes in.
Jaxon has an underlying condition called Polymicrogyria, this is a rare condition where there are too many small folds in the brain.
Polymicrogyria is a condition characterised by abnormal development of the brain before birth. The surface of the brain normally has many ridges or folds, called gyri. In people with polymicrogyria, the brain develops too many folds, and the folds are unusually small.
Jaxon has one of the more severe forms of this condition as it affects his entire brain rather than just one area. Bilateral forms of polymicrogyria tend to cause more severe neurological problems.
“Because of his conditions Jaxon experiences Spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Global Developmental Delay, problems with speech and swallowing, behavioural difficulties including ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” explained his mum Tash Bowden.
“Individuals with his condition are often severely disabled, so for Jaxon to be experiencing reasonably mild symptoms and achieving the things that he is doing is beyond incredible,”
We caught up with Jaxon to find out more about his record-breaking achievements this summer and his goals.
You were recently at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings. Can you please give us a brief run-down on what events you entered and your highlights?
Earlier this year, in January, you broke the 100m T38 National record – what was your time, can you run us through that achievement? Was it a surprise, or were you targeting this?
I have now broken the record multiple times this year. I was definitely aiming for that; I am long listed for the Commonwealth Games so have been trying to get my times closer to the qualifying although Paris Paralympics is my goal in two years’ time.
I broke the NZ record for the 100m at the Tauranga Twilight meet on January 1st with a time of 12:79s, then again at the Capital Classic meet in Wellington on the 4th of February with a time of 12.63s, again at the Waikato Bay of Plenty Championships the following week with a time of 12.48s, and most recently at the New Zealand Track and Field Nationals in Hastings with a time of 12.42s.
Have you also been competing in other meets this summer, such as the ‘Classics’ events?
I have competed at the Potts Classic in Hastings (Would have been a NZ record but didn’t count due to wind assisted), Capital Classic in Wellington (see above), Sir Graeme Douglass Continental Bronze International Meet in Auckland (also wind assisted but would have been a NZ record at the time) and am competing tonight at the Daikin Night of 5s event in Auckland.
You have recently started long jump as well as sprinting?
I have just started doing the long jump this year and have already broken the U17 NZ record for T38 and am aiming to take out the U20 and Open men’s records by next season.
How long have you been doing athletics?
I have only been doing it properly with a coach for three years (this is my third season), but six years in total as I did club athletics at Riverhead in Auckland initially. I then moved to Bays Athletics and begun training with Hamish Meacheam. At the beginning of 2021 my family moved to Tauranga and I started training with Kerry Hill who is my current coach.
Have you competed previously in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships, and are these on your radar for the end of this year in Inglewood?
Yes, I competed at New Zealand Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships in 2019 in Wellington, and again in 2020 in Tauranga where I set the current the current championship records in the 100m, 200m and shot put. It was unfortunate that the championships were cancelled last year. I will be attending them this year in Inglewood and plan to better all the current records and add to it the long jump, and also before William Stedman was re-classified to a T36 he set the 400m record in the T38 classification, so I hope to beat his record for that too.
What are your future goals?
My goal is to compete at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
I got long-listed for this years Commonwealth Games which was unexpected, I have competed well this season although I’m still a way off the qualifying time for this which is 11.60s.
I would like to compete at some International Grand Prix events and at the World Para Athletics Championships, which is the same year as the Paralympics.
I would also love to compete at the World Junior Para Athletics Championships, which were postponed last year and this year due to COVID, as I would like to be the World Junior Champion.
Who are the other T38 athletes in your races; do they have the same or similar disabilities?
Everyone who is a T38 has cerebral palsy, we go through a rigorous process of testing to ensure we are in the correct classification and that we are competing against those with similar disabilities. We first get national classification and then international classification.
What challenges do you have on meet-day, preparing for your races, during the race and afterwards?
Well, the Cerebral palsy really affects the coordination of my hands, so there’s no way I can do up my shoelaces on my own! But in terms of race day breakfast, packing my bag, getting to the event early and then going through my warmups and drills that would be similar to an able-bodied athlete. With the exception that I probably need to be warmer and do a bit more stretching over and above due to the spasticity in my muscles.
How does their support of your family spur you on and motivate you?
My family is amazing. My mum was a 10m platform diver and represented NZ all over the world and my step-dad was an international runner (one of the top in the world in his day), they are both pretty competitive and they understand what it is like to compete and to experience success and they back me 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. My little brother and sister are usually at the track cheering me on as well.
And your coach? How often and where do you train?
My Coach is Kerry Hill, coach to five of the fastest seven Kiwis ever, Gus Nketia, Joseph Millar, Kodi Harman, James Dolphin, and Matt Brown, plus World Champs relay representatives David Falealili and James Mortimer, and World Youth 200m finalist Graeme Read, and three national women’s beach sprint champs. Seven Olympians have emerged from his squads at sprints, jumps, middle distances, decathlon, heptathlon, and bobsleigh. I am the first para-athlete that Kerry has coached and I think he’s really enjoying it. It’s a new challenge for him.
I train at Tauranga Domain three times per week and at the Adams Centre for High Performance two to three times per week. I am the only para-athlete they’ve ever had!
Are you aligned to an athletics club?
I belong to Athletics Tauranga – I just love this club, they are so supportive of me and really make a big deal out of my achievements. This helps and motivates me to do even better. I am proud to represent them.
Away from athletics, what other sports or hobbies do you follow or participate in?
I go to The Cave Papamoa at least twice a week! This is my favourite hobby; it is New Zealand’s best Virtual Reality and Simulated Racing studio. The guys there all know me and support my running as well, I think they are going to sponsor me and I want to work there for my job. I also have a sweet racing set-up at home for my gaming. I do also like bike riding, go kart racing, and going on adventures with my family.
Thank you and good luck for the future.
Story by Steven White for College Sport Media, March 2022.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand