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

(Continued from page 1)

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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.

Additional Photos Below


Kennison said he always loved to run around the playground and play sports. His mother, Louanne Rainey, and his father, Jeff Kennison, decided early on not to put limits on their son.

"The easiest way to sum it up is, he was raised like any other child," said Rainey, who also lives in Norway. Jeff Kennison lives in nearby Sumner, where Josh lived until he was 12.

"I didn't do anything different than I did with my other children," Rainey said. "I truly take no credit for where he's at. I did nothing more than be an everyday mom and love him."

Rainey said her son got great support through the Oxford Hills school district. Only once or twice did she have to remind school officials to give Josh the same opportunities to fail and succeed as other students.

"There are very few things that he cannot do. There are some things that are harder for him," Rainey said.

Josh Kennison said people are often surprised when they learn that he drives a car. Since his 18th birthday, he has lived on his own, without parents or a caretaker.

He lives with his girlfriend, Michelle Page, 21, who's originally from Jacksonville, Fla. The two met at a track meet in Oklahoma City. Page, who is an above-knee bilateral amputee, is also a sprinter.

This fall will be Kennison's fourth season as head coach of the Oxford Hills Middle School girls' soccer team.

"There's nothing that this young man can't do," said Jeff Benson, athletic director in the Oxford Hills school district, who first met Kennison when he tried out for the soccer team in seventh grade.

"Keeping in mind that middle school is the first time a lot of these kids are trying a team sport, or playing for a school team instead of their small town team, this is the guy I want them to talk to," Benson said.


Through high school, Kennison competed in track and soccer "as just a normal kid." Using his heavier walking legs, he developed strength through his thighs.

"My legs are massive," he said with pride, and accuracy.

When he went to his first competition for para-athletes, in 2009, and used the carbon-fiber blades for the first time, he found it exhilarating.

Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, a national company that has several clinics in Maine, provided the carbon-fiber prosthetics.

"Putting on the running legs -- I was already really fast -- so I was outrunning tons of guys who were already in the Paralympics for two or three years," Kennison said.

Kennison is now the second-ranked American in the 100 and 200 meters, behind World Championship silver medalist Blake Leeper. He is the top-ranked T43 long jumper in the nation, with a personal best of 6.05 meters (just over 19 feet, 10 inches).

He has reached the world championship level without a personal trainer or coach. "I'm looking for one," he said.

He has received financial support from groups such as Norway Savings Bank, the Florida-based Never Say Never Foundation and U.S. Paralympics. He has worked as a counselor at Camp No Limits, an organization he has been involved with since 2005. And he received the 2010 Amway Hero Award.

Kennison said he has never bothered to seek the answer to why he was born without feet or arms. He prefers to look forward -- to the 2015 World Championships and hopefully the Paralympics, becoming the fastest U.S. sprinter in his class, continuing to build a relationship with Page, and one other critical task.

"I'm here to provide inspiration," Kennison said. "That's my number one key to my life, is inspiring people."

So is there anything Kennison can't do?

"Tie my shoes," he said matter-of-factly.

He points out that his shoes are tied onto his prosthetic walking legs, which he can nimbly and quickly slide over his lower legs.

Tying the shoes "really isn't something I have to worry about," he said, "because I never take my shoes off."

Steve Craig can be contacted at 792-6413 or at:

Twitter: @StevenCCraig


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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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