Crescent boy takes top gold in disability tourney

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"Claytons never quit."

Gary and Darla Clayton of Crescent adopted that family motto after watching their 10-year-old son, Trent, struggle with cerebral palsy.

Those three words -- simple, yet powerful -- proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as Trent won 12 gold medals at the National Junior Disability Championships in July in Rochester, Minn. The event was sponsored by Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA and is affiliated with USA Paralympics.

Trent competed in swimming, archery, and track and field events. In winning 12 gold medals, he broke a national record in the discus and a National Junior Disability Championship record in the shot put.

Trent, who will be a fifth-grader at Moon Area Middle School in the fall, said the championships were fun but that he was kind of nervous competing against the other children.

When asked about his achievements, he said, "I thought, 'Wow, this is great.' "

It was the third time he competed, and the first time he qualified to compete in archery and swimming.

No matter what the situation, Mrs. Clayton said, Trent adapts and finds a way to participate.

When he wanted to learn archery but struggled because he can't use his right hand very well, Mrs. Clayton said, he worked hard and learned to shoot without any adaptive equipment.

"It was amazing that he could do it," she said. "He does not let anything stop him. He always finds a way to do it, even if it's not the same way that you or I would do it."

Several years ago, the family sought opportunities for him to participate in track and field and to compete against athletes who had similar challenges as he did. Upon learning about the championships, Trent qualified at a regional event and attended his first national competition in 2011.

On the way home, Mrs. Clayton said, Trent expressed an interest in being part of a team and in encouraging other local children with disabilities to get active in competitive sports. That same year, Trent and his mother co-founded Strong as Steel Adaptive Sports, a competitive team that provides sport-specific training and opportunities for children ages 5 to 21 who have physical disabilities.

Mrs. Clayton has since become a certified Level 1 coach with USA Track and Field and does most of the coaching and training with a focus on track and field, archery, swimming and weightlifting, which are the primary events at the championships.

"It's been a really positive experience for our family," Mrs. Clayton said. "We couldn't do it without our whole family supporting us."

Mr. Clayton provides significant support for the team, and their 5-year-old daughter, Amarisa, is the official cheerleader at all of the events.

She had much to cheer about at this year's competition when the team took first place among medium-sized teams.

"It was a miracle. We were completely in shock," Mrs. Clayton said. "It was very exciting."

Although she said winning a gold medal is exciting, the focus of the team is on helping the children progress and reach personal bests.

She said the family is proud of Trent's achievements, but they are most impressed by his spirit to keep trying no matter what.

"He always puts in his best. He's always willing to try new things, even though they're hard. I think that's very admirable," she said.

"Trent is an inspiration to us all," Mr. Clayton said.

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Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:


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