Ortiz sets sights on the finish line, competes at U.S. Paralympic Trials
By Catherine Harper
Six years ago, during his senior year at Texas State, James Ortiz lost part of his right leg in a bicycle accident. Today, he’s up and running.
“I always knew I’d be running again,” Ortiz says. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
Ortiz graduated from Texas State in 2006 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, and currently works as a track and field coach at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. In his spare time, Ortiz is training for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team, hoping to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London from August 29 to September 9.
It was a tragic day in June 2006 when Ortiz, a track and field standout at the top of his middle-distance runners class at Texas State, lost control of his bicycle on an incline and skidded under a waste services truck.
“After my accident — the day of — I wanted to get up and run the next day,” Ortiz says. “I was so used to running everyday. To take five years off is really hard to do. It took a while to kind of be physically ready for it but I knew the day would come.”
The hiatus has not slowed Ortiz’s passion for his sport. On March 24, 2012, Ortiz stepped up to the challenge at the U.S. Paralympic Trials in Hays, Kansas. In order to advance to the second round of the trials, he would have to sprint 400 meters in less than 70.04 seconds. Wearing a prosthetic leg, he completed the distance in 58.36 seconds.
“I was surprised by my time just because I really had no idea what I was capable of doing,” Ortiz says. “It’s hard to say I was successful because I came in last place, but I’m still learning as I go along.”
The second round of trials will take place in Indianapolis, Illinois in late June; Ortiz needs a time of 53 seconds or less to qualify for the next round of the trials.
“I really don’t have any expectations,” says Ortiz. “Whatever happens is going to happen. I just know that I’m going to prepare myself the best I can, to run as fast as I can while I’m there.”
Ortiz is still upping his speed, recently winning the 200-meter race at the Kansas Relays with a time of 26.33 seconds. Despite all of his recent running success, Ortiz says preparation for the trials has presented many challenges.
“I’m a distance runner; I always will be,” Ortiz says. “It was difficult to drop down and run a 400-meter race, and I had to do it with one leg. It’s something I never imagined I would be doing.”
In the aftermath of that fateful accident six years ago, Ortiz has never stopped dreaming, and launched himself into his career with the help of Texas State faculty and students.
“I had always wanted to coach even before my accident,” Ortiz says. “I told Texas State I wanted to run again and they were still there for me. I was still able to access all of the facilities and get hope from the trainers.”
Now a coach for one of the top 10 track teams in the nation, Ortiz uses his athletic abilities to train students to succeed.
“Running is No. 2 in my life right now,” Ortiz says. “Everything I do during my day is to help the 20 to 25 individuals that I work with on my team. Once I’m done with all that, I use my time left over for running.”
Ortiz is excited to be running competitively again, and he’s learning more about his passion every step of the way.
“Career-wise, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing right now and keep building this program,” Ortiz says. “Running-wise, again, I don’t know. As crazy as it is, I’m just a coach. You would think I would know everything about running. I’m behind where I want to be but I’m still learning as I go along.”