A Gold Medalist's Story

by Wheel Me On... 2000; 2007

Web www.wheelmeon.org

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1996 Gold Medalist
2000 by Julia Hollenbeck

Larry Hughes

Born in 1948, Larry Tyrone Hughes resides in Baltimore, Maryland. He served in the United States Marine Corp and is one of America's Heroes. During his tour in Vietnam, he sustained a shrapnel wound inevitably creating his life-long challenge of being a paraplegic. A man that carries a certain charisma that turns heads, his persona overwhelms others with curiosity and few can resist a desire to meet him. As an athlete, advocator, and entrepreneur for all humanity, he is a winner. Ultimately, Larry Tyrone Hughes is one hundred percent Military Pride!

Curt Beamer, Photographer Like many that suffer re-adjustments in life, it took him a number of years to overcome the attitudinal barriers he faced. In 1976 he made the decision to overcome and meet the challenge. Eventually, Larry did not believe that he was disabled, but he knew that he was inconvenienced. He engaged himself with plyometrics as a conditioning exercise for training. This endeavor took him on a 367-mile marathon road race trek through Alaska, not once, but twice and more than two dozen road races following that first one.

Curt Beamer, Photographer While Larry enjoys weight lifting, basketball and billiards, his primary focus is on field events and he has been engaged with these events for the past 17 years. During the last 15 years he competed with The National Paralyzed Wheelchair Game events.

But of utmost importance is the fact that Larry Tyrone Hughes is not a selfish individual. He is a kind and generous person who has an incredible desire not to win just for himself, but instead to win for all. This is proven every time he helps others by sharing his techniques on training. His special training clinics and motivational therapy presentations provide skills to others. Larry believes, "you've got to share your techniques and your secrets with everyone."

His winning attitude led him to other endeavors including starting a non-profit organization. The organization has received recognition and support from the House of Representatives of Maryland and Blue Chip sponsored companies. The motto, "Promoting Opportunities Through Athletics" is a true description of Larry Tyrone Hughes.

Curt Beamer, Photographer Larry's personal motto: "If better is possible, then good isn't enough" provides a true persona of his being. His philosophy and winning attitude earned him several gold medals and is today the United States National record holder in discus, javelin and shot-put, and a world record holder as the 1996 Paralympic Gold Medalist. One of the most interesting things about Larry Tyrone Hughes is that he won the Gold Medal in Atlanta in 1996 after he broke his elbow!

It was during the 20th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, held in San Antonio, Texas, that I first met Larry Tyrone Hughes. On Friday, July 7th in the year 2000, I wheeled over to the designated area for the Field Games at the Athletic Complex in the Northside Independant Scool District. There were 12 pits assigned for discus, shot put, and javelin. I stopped at the Pit One where a discus event was in progress and shot a roll of film, then glancing at activities along my way I slowly wheeled down to the last pit on the first row. I reloaded my camera, swung myself around, and then faced the Shot Put arena at Pit Ten in the second row.

A large man rolled up in a spiffy wheelchair wearing a red, white and blue gym suit that matched the spoke guard on his wheelchair, and the mere appearance of him captured my attention. I wondered who this man was, just exactly what he was going to do, and how well he would actually do it. My intuition told me, "something big is going to happen here" and I turned loose of the joystick on my wheelchair and waited.

His presence drew a number of individuals that immediately surrounded him; watching, wanting to assist, and waiting while the ground anchors were secured. A few of them noticed me with my camera mounted to my wheelchair and stepped to the rear of him to avoid blocking my view and I decided to capture on film whatever it was the man was going to do. These actions in themselves became a happening, while within a few short moments I realized it was not just an act or performance for show. This man was serious. His attention focused to the anchors and stablizing of his mount, he mounted the seat and cautiously checked the stabilizing straps that secured the throwing platform to the ground anchors. Someone handed him the weighted ball and his attention was devoted to his first of three attempts at throwing a Shot Put and what unfolded next through the lens of my cameras, early on this cloudy morning, was truly an unbelievable sight.

In deliberate slow motion he moved the ball with his hands rhythmically to the sound of silent music, nestled it to his neck with his right hand, and then positioned his left arm to the front of him preparing for his throw. As the suspense grew, so did my imagination with sounds of a symphony as he leaned back on the throwing platform to gain momentum for his pitch, then as he catapulted himself forward, a drum roll in my mind released itself and ended when I heard the thunder from within his lungs roar as he launched the ball into the field far more than just a fair distance. Twice more I watched this same performance and at the end, I was still so captivated that I could not move. Within my mind I knew I was going to meet him as there was a prevalent invisible bond, while my wheels seemed planted in the ground as Larry Tyrone Hughes approached.

He looked me directly in the eye and I returned the stare and smiled, until he approached and allowed me to introduced myself, as did he, but at the time, his name meant nothing to me. I explained to him that I was attending the games for media coverage for Wheel Me On, briefly explained the web site, and he asked me if I knew there were other field events that would allow me to capture. I began to feel as if I was the one being interviewed when he asked why I was not engaged in sporting events, while I answered his questions and my imagination piqued, he invited me to hear his presentation at Pit One on Discus as we hurriedly exchanged calling cards.

As I followed him back to the first pit, I kept wondering who this man really was and why I was so captivated. He could not have cared less about my interviewing him, he was more concerned about engaging me in sporting activities: A secret desire I had long ago given up on and wondered how he knew, if he knew, and just what he knew about me.

At Pit One he was immediately surrounded by numbers of people who welcomed his very presence. I was impressed and suddenly realized he had to be someone that was fairly important and could not resist photography during his lecture because I was fascinated watching the crowd encircle him. The end result was that I could not hear his presentation because I was too far away to hear his words in depth. Hence, I decided to do my own research and engaged myself with contacts I personally knew, who either knew Mr. Hughes or knew of him. Additionally, I began scrutinizing the media resource book from NVWG, but it was not until the evening's closing ceremonies on the 8th of July, that I realized I had met the man who had earned the Gold Cup for the "Spirit of the Games 2000" at this 20th National Veterans Wheelchair Game.

July 8th, 2000
Photo Courtesy of Curt Beamer

Larry Tyrone Hughes went to Sydney, Australia, to Defend his World Record in October 2000

2000 Sydney Paralympic Games
Oct 18-29, 2000

by Larry Tyrone Hughes

There are no master classes in the Paralympics and if you make it to the Paralympics or to the World Championships, you receive documentation that proves you are within the top eight athletes in the world for that class. I set out to win the gold; to apply my best efforts in all of my competitions. Nevertheless, when I returned, I was an icon with no medal at all, and I experienced Murphy's Law over and over again. First, the skin, on the top portion of my left foot, began to break down, requiring medical attention. Next, a garbage truck struck me, knocking over my chair and banging me up a bit. Finally, I developed a mild sleeping disorder. Earlier I had made the decision not to take any pain relievers because many are banned substances, and I had no intentions of doing anything that would have a negative impact on the United States Paralympic Team, the American public, or myself.

When the competition began, my first event was the Shot Put. The throws appeared to be mere puffs to me, at a time when explosion was needed. In spite of that, all of my throws were enough to keep me in the competition and I still ranked among the top eight in the world. I had never finished below the top eight in the world rankings. The facts are I had my best throw of 11.75 meters called foul because of the release, and my best record throw of competition was 11.25 meters. I was at least eleven years older than the next competitor in my class, but Murphy wasn't finished with me yet.

The Javelin event was on Wednesday, October 25, 2000. That evening, I was the first athlete to compete. The wind was blowing while I made my javelin selection and felt the eyes of spectators on me wondering, "Had I selected the right javelin?" With the pain radiating through my arm, I found it hard to control my throw with the javelin I picked. My goal was to make it to the finals, and I kept thinking, "That's all I got to do." My first and third throws granted me the opportunity to go to the finals, but the pain was stronger than the athlete. Competition was very tough in the Javelin event. I was seventeen years older than the winner from Iran and I again found myself to be the senior competitor. They say that a man my age can't be competitive, especially in my class but I finished with a distance of 31.05 meters, and again in the top eight.

The Discus event was on Saturday, October 28, 2000. My plan was to rally all that I could to give a title winning performance. But, I watched three years, nine months, seventeen days and eight hours of training turn to nothing, due to what I thought was a mistake made by a World Class Official at the highest level of all competitions. An electronic measuring device was used for the accuracy of its readings. The officials are signaled when a measurement has been received and a designated official waves his hand. From the response of the crowd of over twenty thousand spectators who witnessed my third throw, I knew it was my longest throw and a new record. But, why were only two throw measurements up on the board when everyone knew I threw three times? The replay camera showed that I had thrown three times. I saw the official wave to someone waving to her from the stands. The results that vanished would have taken me to the next level and helped me to maintain my record. My source was lost. I received no medal and Aref Khosravinia, from Iran, became the new title holder, breaking my record. When the head official called me "the Ambassador of Field," I silently accepted the offering; but, it didn't replace the medal that should have been hanging from my neck. My rank, at the end, was fifth in the world and fifth overall in the Discus. My distance was 40.02 Meters.

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to hundreds of Australian school children and a group of Special Olympic Athletes, which actually helped to offset my stress and pain. It is wonderful to wear the crown of the best in the world for four years. I know because I wore it.

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