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Paraplegic relay racer inspires others to find purpose one roll at a time

Paraplegic racer inspires others to find purpose

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - An athlete from Boulder is beating the odds one roll at a time. Jess Markt is a competitive racer, a para athlete preparing for a 200-mile race along the Oregon coast later this month.

"Racing is just another competitive outlet," Markt said. "It's another way to test myself, to challenge myself. I have always loved sports since I was a kid, since well before I was injured."

A car accident paralyzed Markt from the chest down in 1996. For almost two decades, he's used his disability to inspire others.

Training on the Sand Creek High School track with his coach, John Zavada, is just something on the side to fuel his competitive edge.

For the last several years, this paraplegic has traveled the world bringing adaptive sports programs like wheelchair basketball to Afghanistan and other nations.

"If you don't think of yourself as disabled first," the racer said, "if that's not your primary self-conception, other people are not going to see that as well."

"When I'm with Jess, I don't see the chair anymore," Zavada said. I think that's what athletes with physical disabilities want, they don't want you to see the chair, they want you to see the athlete."

Markt was a high jumper on the University of Oregon track team for a year before his injury. In a couple of weeks he'll return to his home state -- where he first grew to love track and field for the largest team relay.

"You have a choice in how you perceive what disability does for your life," Markt said. "You can see it as a negative or a positive opportunity, and if you see it the right way that's how things really unfold."

Markt will join family and friends in northern Oregon August 22 and 23 for the "Hood to Coast" relay from Mount Hood to Seaside.

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