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PARALYMPICS-SIEMANN Aug-22-2012 (670 words) With photo. xxxn
Paralympian credits family, Catholic school for his success as athlete
By David Karas
Brian Siemann, a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Lawrence, N.J., will represent the United States in track and field at the 2012 Paralympic Games, which begin Aug. 29 in London. (CNS/courtesy Brian Siemann)
Catholic News Service
LAWRENCE, N.J. (CNS) -- On Brian Siemann's first day at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence in 2004, Coach Joe McLaughlin invited the young man who required a wheelchair for his mobility to do something he had never before considered.
"You're coming out for the track team," McLaughlin recalled telling the then-perplexed student.
Paralyzed from the waist down at birth after a hospital accident, Siemann is a quadruplet, and was joined at Notre Dame by his sisters, Maria, Jessica and Amanda.
What happened since then is history in the making.
After competing in the 2011 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Millstone resident has qualified to represent the United States in track and field at the 2012 Paralympic Games, which begin Aug. 29 in London.
He is scheduled to compete in at least six races, including the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter, 800 meter and the marathon, which is Sept. 9, the final day of the games.
"It is a huge honor to be representing Team USA," Siemann told The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton. "To me, making the team is not only an honor, but also is a testament to the amount of work that has gone into my training since I began racing."
He credits his family -- his parents in particular -- for their around-the-clock dedication, especially on the early morning drives to races or late night drives home from extra practices.
But it is his Notre Dame family, he said, that helped spark his racing career.
After McLaughlin made the seemingly impossible suggestion to the then-freshman student, the coach teamed up with fellow staff members and an organization, Project Freedom, and together they raised the $5,000 necessary to purchase Siemann's first racing chair.
With his new equipment, Siemann hit the track and trained alongside the rest of the team.
"Coach McLaughlin and I had no idea what we were doing when we first started. I didn't even know the proper way to push in the racing chair," Siemann confessed, though he said he began to get better each day. "(McLaughlin) didn't see me as a disabled athlete -- he saw me as an athlete with a disability and treated me like he would any of his other athletes."
After receiving a full scholarship to the University of Illinois, Siemann continued his training under a coach who is a three-time Paralympian, and who also made Team USA this year alongside some of his students.
For McLaughlin, seeing a student he closely mentored make it to the international stage is nothing short of amazing.
"It is incredible," he said. "As a coach, those are the things you dream of."
"And Brian is nothing but one of the nicest kids you will ever meet," he continued. "It makes it that much better."
Siemann's road to London started three years ago when he committed to qualifying and embarked on a rigorous training schedule -- typically twice a day, six days a week, and for two or three hours each session. It has been a challenge to balance training, academics and a social life, he said, but he credits his friends for embracing his commitments.
He plans to graduate next spring with a degree in English and a minor in secondary education, and to pursue a master's degree in education while continuing his training leading up to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
Despite the rigorous challenge ahead of him, the young athlete knows he has his Notre Dame family rooting for him.
"The generous community at Notre Dame provided me with my first racing chair and got me started on this path. Without their support and generosity I would not be where I am today," he said. "When I go to London in a few weeks, I look forward to pushing my hardest and representing the United States knowing that I have the Notre Dame community behind me supporting me in all of my races."
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Karas is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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