August 24, 2013

Para-athlete born to run

Norway's Josh Kennison won a medal in a world championship event and aims to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

By Steve Craig
Staff Writer

NORWAY - It took Josh Kennison of Norway only a second or so to realize what he had accomplished.

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Josh Kennison of Norway, who was born without feet, arms, tongue and part of his jaw, attaches his prosthetic running legs before a run at Oxford Hills High School.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Maine para-athlete Josh Kennison, 23, recently medaled in the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.

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He wasn't expected to win a medal in the 100-meter dash, yet he finished third to win a bronze in a world championship event.

"I was actually jumping up and down," said Kennison, a 23-year-old graduate of Oxford Hills High School. "I ran up to our media person and she had a USA flag and I grabbed it and ran around with it, sort of a victory lap."

Kennison was born with no feet, so he uses prosthetics that wrap around his lower legs. His arms end around elbow length, with his right arm a little shorter. He was also born without a tongue, and is missing a portion of his jaw.

And he's now the third-fastest para-athlete in the world in the T43 category -- for competitors who are missing both legs -- after winning his bronze medal July 23 at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.

Because Kennison doesn't use prosthetics for his arms, he uses paint cans as supporting structures in the starting blocks.

One other runner in the six-man race used similar supports. The other four, including world-record holder and race winner Alan Fonteles Oliveira of Brazil, are bilateral amputees.

"The official term is, I am a congenital quadrilateral amputee," Kennison said.


Kennison began to find competitive outlets when he was in middle school, playing soccer and running track, and continued through high school at Oxford Hills. He was stronger at soccer.

"I didn't have nice running legs yet," he said of his prosthetics. "I had to play sports in my walking legs."

As a para-athlete, Kennison uses curved carbon-fiber blades like those that Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorious brought to the world's attention when he competed for South Africa in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Pistorious, since charged with murdering his girlfriend, was the first person to transition from the Paralympics to Olympic competition.

The world records that Pistorious set in the T43 division have since been broken by Oliveira, who won the 100- and 200-meter dashes in France in a championship record time of 10.80 seconds (0.03 off his world record) and a world-record time of 20.66 seconds, respectively.

Kennison's time in the 100 was 11.93 seconds, slightly off his personal best of 11.78. He was fifth in the 200, in 24.12 seconds. His personal best in that race is 23.67.

Because Kennison has a portion of his legs below the knees, he attaches the carbon-fiber blades behind his knees. He notes that the blades make him slightly taller than the 5-foot-9 he is in his "walking legs."

The other athletes in France attached the blades at the knee joint, giving them a more streamlined extension of their upper legs.

Kennison said some competitors use outsized blades to increase their height.

"I could go into a whole lot of politics," he said. "I ran the race the best I can."

Asked to elaborate, Kennison said, "when (Oliveira) has his walking legs on, he's my height. With his running legs, he's like 6-foot-4. You're taking a guy from 5-8, 5-9 to 6-4. Of course you're going to have a longer stride."

But he isn't griping. He was pleased with his first world championship effort, even though his times didn't match his personal bests.

He said he believes he can cut a half-second off his 100-meter time and expects he'll have to do that over the next two-plus years if he is to reach his goal of qualifying for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Josh Kennison gets in a little running on the Oxford Hills High School track earlier this month.


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