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A long and winding path

Houghton athlete Maria Velat changed course following a new health condition, but her desire for sports and competition never slowed down.
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 3:49 PM EDT
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Athletes and people in general overcome obstacles in their lives everyday. A Houghton High School athlete is learning this from a new perspective and her positive attitude is making it work.

Maria Velat wore bib number 52 for Houghton at the U.P. Cross Country Finals in October 2018 at Munising.

She finished fifth in the race as a freshman behind Negaunee’s Emily Poupore and Houghton’s Anabel Needham, but a year later, life took a dramatic turn for Velat.

“I was struck with Transverse Myelitis which has unknown causes,” Velat said. “It’s when your immune system attacks your spinal cord and causes it to (be) inflamed. And then I became a quadriplegic and used a wheelchair for about a year. Right now I use a crutch to walk around.”

Velat’s desire for sports hasn’t slowed down. She’s been able to get help and borrow a racing chair from the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. Velat is learning how to to take part in the 100M and 400M dashes.

“It’s pretty tricky because you don’t get really fast until you start your momentum. So you have to do a few little jumps, but once you get started, you can get pretty fast. And it’s pretty hard to slow down after that,” she described. “You basically are pushing it with your hands repeatedly around the rim. And it has, like, normal bicycle tires. But it has an added rim on the outside, and you’re laying on top of your knees so it can be pretty uncomfortable.”

One goal Velat has is to help the Houghton Gremlins score points in a track and field meet.

“Michigan is only one of a couple states that doesn’t have standards to have adaptive athletes to score. We’re working on a proposal where if you pass a certain time in a meet, then you can score a point for your team in order to really be a part of it,” she said.

Velat has only been racing in a chair for a couple weeks, but she’s been sit skiing for a year and a half.

“And you can only double pole, so going up any hills is pretty difficult, and flats are definitely more enjoyable,” Velat said. “And turning is also extremely difficult ‘cause the skis are connected to the chair so you have to drift around the corners.”

Velat is a senior in Houghton, but she’ll continue her academic and racing career at the University of Michigan.

Houghton athlete Maria Valet ahead of a race.
Houghton athlete Maria Valet ahead of a race.(WLUC)
Houghton athlete Maria Valet during a race.
Houghton athlete Maria Valet during a race.(WLUC)
Houghton athlete Maria Valet during a track meet.
Houghton athlete Maria Valet during a track meet.(WLUC)

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