When Torey Hett of Marion was growing up, a favorite annual event of his was the Challenge Games, a track and field competition held each year in Derby for athletes with physical disabilities.
“Ever since I was a little kid I competed in it, all the way through high school,” Hett said.
Hett was born with spina bifida, a condition in which part of his spinal cord protrudes from his vertebrae. Because of the condition, he can’t feel his legs or feet and uses a wheelchair.
The condition didn’t stop Hett from competing in track and field in junior high and high school, and in special events like the Challenge Games, using a chair designed for racing.
Hett gave up competition after graduating from high school, but he has remained connected to the Challenge Games by serving as a volunteer.
“I’ve been back a couple of years helping out with timing,” Hett said.
Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA is the national sanctioning organization for the Challenge Games, and new regulations this year presented Meet Director Carol Keller with a challenge of her own.
“We now have a rule in order to be a sanctioned competition that we have to increase the number of officials certified through USA Track and Field,” Keller said. “It’s difficult to find people this time of year — high schools are up and running, colleges are up and running, and they all need officials.”
Sanctioning by WASUSA also allows Challenge Games participants to qualify for national competition with their performances.
Keller’s solution was to seek out someone willing to get USATF certification, and for that she turned to Hett.
“I’ve known Torey since he was a young guy. He was an athlete who competed in the Challenge Games, and he’s continued to volunteer in different capacities, Keller said.
“At first I think it was nostalgic for him to be back, but I see him growing in his desire to be involved,” Keller said. “I suggested to Torey he get certified, and he just jumped at that.”
To become certified, Hett first had to become a USATF member. He went to Wichita in February to take a certification class conducted by USATF Missouri Valley Association.
“I went to Wichita State, they had an indoor track meet that day,” Hett said.
“We had classroom learning that morning, and there was an open book test. They went over everything from uniforms to conduct of officials, to the different equipment that is used at all the track meets,” Hett said. “We went out after lunch and worked the track meet with people who were already certified.”
Hett came home from the training certified as a USATF associate-level official, and Keller plans to take full advantage of Hett’s new status.
“He will be involved in both the track competition and field competition,” Keller said. “He’ll be part of the team that times, and one of those that’s enforcing the rules.”
Hett welcomes the opportunity to give back to an event and sport that has given him so much personal enjoyment.
“The Challenge Games were a great thing for me. I’ve been in these kids’ shoes and had the satisfaction of being on the track in the middle of a race and being cheered on,” Hett said.
“I like seeing the kids succeed out there. They’re not sitting around, they’re actually using their talents. It’s good to see the kids out there competing no matter their level of disability.”
Hett’s perspective is a good match for the goals Keller had when she founded the Challenge Games in 1989.
“It’s really important for those with disabilities to have a healthy lifestyle, and experience the competition and team camaraderie that others do,” Keller said.