Catch Him if You Can
Jan 02, 2016 11:07PM ● Published by Dia
Photos by Jamie Handy
They are either set for you by others, or you create them for yourself. Fortunately for his teammates and coaches, neither scenario applies to Christopher Tracht, a student at Carroll Middle School. He’s your typical 14-year-old boy with favorite classes (Texas or U.S. history), a favorite place to hang out (the outdoors), and favorite sports (it’s a toss- up between cycling and running).
But what’s not typical is his determination and grit. He allows nothing to get in the way of his Olympic-sized aspirations. Not even the fact that he became an amputee before his first birthday.
Christopher was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect in which his left leg was missing the fibular bone, which in turn caused a foot defor- mity. His dad, Scott, remembers those first weeks of Christopher’s life. “My wife and I met with the pediatrician just a few hours after Christopher was born, and they immediately recommended Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas,” he recalls.
It was the orthopaedic surgeons at Scottish Rite Hospital, one of the nation’s leading pediatric centers for the treatment of orthopaedic condi- tions, who recommended a Symes Amputation, which is the foot only. However, his left leg is about five inches shorter than his right, so the prosthesis Christopher would be fitted with four to six weeks after the amputation would be for the lower left leg below the knee.
But, says Scott, although this was a significant setback for someone at such an early age, hav- ing the prosthesis never slowed his son down. “He was walking by the time he was 13 months old,” Scott says. “And the rest is history.”
Since age three, Christopher has been an active athlete, and according to his dad, if you ever saw his son compete, you’d have no idea that he has a prosthesis. For Chris, it’s never been a matter of settling for a sport that fits his limitations. Instead, it’s more about reaching beyond them.
“There’s never really been a time when I thought
I couldn’t do anything that other kids could,” Chris-
topher says. He skis, hunts, plays baseball, runs and
participates in many other sports. The prosthesis has
never inhibited his athletic desires or abilities.
And while Christopher knows no limitations to what he can try to accomplish, it’s not always that simple for his coaches. Joe Armato, who is also a family friend, has coached Christopher on a select baseball team, the Panthers, for the last three years. He recalls the first time he met Christopher at tryouts.
“At the time, I had no idea he was an amputee,” Armato remembers. “When he came over to me I noticed he was wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘orthopaedic’ on it. Since we live in an area where a lot of orthopaedic surgeons reside, I asked Chris if his dad was a doctor.”
Armato was not expecting Christopher to respond: “No, I have a prosthetic leg.”
“Now, it would go through the mind of any coach of a higher-level select team that they can’t have a kid on their team with a disability who wouldn’t be able to perform,” Armato admits. “However, after watching Chris play, it was almost as if I didn’t even know he had a prosthesis.”
Going to Texas Scottish Rite every three months or so for adjustments to his current prosthesis is just another part of Christopher’s story. Steve Ronde has been Christopher’s prosthetist since 200
“Technology has changed over the years, and as a result, so have prosthetics. Not only does Chris visit the hospital for new fittings and tunings as he ages, he is also able to keep up with the latest strides in the field,” says Ronde, a certified and licensed prosthetist and orthotist at Texas Scottish Rite.
The older he gets, the more school Christopher misses. And if it were not for his understanding teachers, he says, it may be even more difficult. “I get frustrated sometimes because it’s tough going back and forth to the hospital,” Christopher says. “But it’s just a part of my life, and I’ve gotten used to it. Plus, we get to go out for breakfast on hospital days, which makes it not so bad.”
Ronde remembers that in the beginning Christopher was fitted with a relatively basic prosthesis,
but it didn’t keep him from his life of sports. Now, there are more high-tech prosthetics for running that allow him to compete at the highest level.
“Chris is definitely one of my more active patients, and I’ve been here 30 years,” Ronde says. “He is very enthusiastic about running and playing sports. He’s really a natural. I have no doubt we will see him at the Paralympics one day.”
Coinciding with the Olympics, the Paralympics offer sport opportunities for athletes with a primary impairment such as a limb deficiency. Christopher’s below-the-knee amputation falls under this qualifying category. But he must jump a few hurdles to make it to the international stage of competition.
For the past five years, Christopher has participated in the nationally recognized UCO Endeavor Games, a qualifier for the Paralympics. Presented by the University of Central Oklahoma, the annual event allows athletes with physical disabilities to compete in a multi-sport event.
“They have everything at the Endeavor Games,” Christopher says. “I’ve tried most every sport at the event, but track and cycling are my favor- ites. I compete in the 20K cycling event each year.”
Christopher has won numerous medals at the games, including, most notably, a gold medal for the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash, and the long jump.
In order to compete in running events, Christopher needs a running blade, which is a special prosthesis made just for running. “The Chal- lenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego has opened up many oppor- tunities for Chris,” his dad says. “It was through this organization that Chris was able to get a running blade.”
Travis Ricks, Sr. Programs Manager & Athlete Relations for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, has worked with Christopher and his family over the past few years to help him obtain grants for tuning prosthetics, as well as fund travel to events such as the San Diego Triathlon Challenge.
“I see a talent in Christopher that isn’t in most kids his age,” Ricks says. “He is fiercely competitive, but in such a way that makes you want to see him succeed. He is an athlete through and through.”
It is through organizations such as the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital that Christopher has been invited to do so many incredible things, Scott says. In 2012, Christopher had the opportunity to participate in the Dallas Marathon, but not as a runner... yet.
Each year, one patient of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children serves as the Junior Race Director for the marathon. This individual represents thousands of children treated at the hospital. Chris was chosen as the 2012 Junior Race Director, and remembers the experi- ence fondly.
“I was featured on ‘Good Morning Texas’ and spoke to many people about the event,” he says. “But the best part was starting the race. I’ve run a lot of 5Ks, and I hope to run, maybe, a half marathon one day.”
Running, well, runs in the family. His mom, Niki, has always been an avid runner and actually ran the half marathon at Christopher’s Race Director debut in 2012. His sister Cate, who is a sophomore at Carroll Senior High School, runs Cross Country and track. It is through his involvement in Cross Country and track at Carroll Middle School that he continues to hone his skills. And the positive reinforcement he receives from coaches and his peers helps him to excel.
Zach Sellers, who has coached Christopher in Cross Country and track for a little more than two years, has accolades to share about Christopher’s performance both on and off the track. “Chris makes the most of his opportunities in any situation he’s in,” Sellers says. “Even with the hand he has been dealt, he still has a great outlook on life and a positive attitude both in sports and in school. Kids look to him as a leader and someone they can learn from. He is a guy other teammates and students emulate, both in the classroom and on the field.”
His baseball coach agrees. “Chris is one of the leaders on the team because he inspires,” Armato says. “The other players, both on his team and opposing teams, are able to see what he has been able to accomplish with what he’s been given. People look at him and say, ‘If Chris can do this, I can do this.’ He drives people. Chris doesn’t allow his physical limitation to get in the way of his overall performance.”
Christopher sets a (quiet) example of what an athlete should stand for and how they should compete—with character and sportsmanship. And that’s ex- actly why we agree with everyone else: You’ll be seeing him at the Paralympics.
“But not when I turn 16,” Christopher says. “I will probably wait until the 2020 games in Tokyo.” After all, he’s got favorite classes to attend.