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Sevanna Utesch had contemplated joining the Tomah High School track and field team since she was a freshman.
Now as a junior, she is a member of that team as the school’s first wheelchair competitor.
Utesch said what drove her to finally join the team was watching a friend, also a wheelchair competitor, compete at the WIAA state track and field meet last year.
“At first I wasn’t really into it that much, but then I got really into sled hockey and more sports ... and then meeting a network (of other athletes),” she said. “So it’s not only me having this disability but other people having this disability.”
Utesch was born with spina bifida, a birth condition in which a baby’s spinal column fails to close properly while in the womb. It hinders Utesch’s ability to walk and run.
“In Latin it means split spine, so I had an opening at birth that all my nerves were outside of my body, and (doctors) had to do surgery. I’ve had between 57 and 61 surgeries in my life, and I’m only 16,” she said. “”I can walk ... but I can’t run well.”
THS girls track coach Jessa Von Haden was excited to Uetsch come out for the team. Von Haden has known Utesch since she was little.
“She’s actually been talking to me about this probably since she was a freshman,” Von Haden said. “But then at the beginning of this fall ... she asked ‘what do you think about me doing track this year?’ I said why not, so we talked about it, and then we didn’t really do much about it, and then all of a sudden she was here and it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ It’s been a neat opportunity.”
Shannon Utesch, Sevanna Utesch’s mother, said she got emotional when her daughter decided to join the track team.
“I think it’s awesome; it brought me to tears,” she said. “I think it’s great that Jessa gave her the opportunity and was willing.”
Sevanna Utesch enjoys participating in sports. She also belongs to a sled hockey team based in La Crosse and before that one from Madison.
For track, she just loves the competition aspect and that it’s both a team and individual sport.
“Even though I’m on a team, I like racing against other competitors,” she said.
Learning the new sport was a challenge, Sevanna Utesch said, because of multiple wheelchairs required.
“Getting into (them) was a challenge − I got bruises on both hips,” she said.