Alexa Halko can’t run. Cerebral palsy won’t let her.
She walks slowly and with some difficulty. But she likely will be among the fastest of an expected 32,000 competitors in Saturday’s Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K.
Alexa, a 14-year-old freshman at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg, will attack the 6.2-mile course in a racing chair.
A word of advice: Blink, and you’ll quite possibly miss her. She has qualified for the U.S. Paralympic track and field national team in two events: the 100- and 800-meter sprints.
“I like speed. I like to go fast,” Alexa said. “Normally, when I’m at home or at school, going fast is something I can never do.
“But when I’m out there on the track — especially in a race against fast competitors — it’s hard to describe. It’s like everything is good and there are no problems in the world.”
She has played other adaptive sports. She is a decorated swimmer and a capable wheelchair basketball player.
But track is her passion. Track, she said, “showed me what fast is and what fast feels like. And believe me: It feels really good.”
Alexa’s mother, Elesha, said track in essence has restored what nature withheld.
“I think she’s happiest when she’s out on a track and she can just let go,” her mother said. “There are no restrictions when she’s out there in her chair. There are no barriers. She goes as fast as she can for as long as she can — and she just loves it.”
Alexa, who last year moved with her family from Oklahoma to Williamsburg, does not use a wheelchair at home or school. She walks with the aid of splints.
When seated in her racing chair, she tucks her lower legs beneath her like an airplane’s retractable landing gear.
“It’s almost as though she’s in a little cocoon,” Elesha said. “It’s almost as though the chair and the wheels become her legs.
“I think that’s why she loves it so much. She’s in charge when she’s on a track — not like, say, when she’s riding a roller coaster. When she’s on a track, she’s making it happen. It’s as though she’s saying, ‘This is me. … I’m the one who’s doing this.’”
Alexa was introduced to adaptive sports while growing up in Oklahoma. She was 7 at the time. She won eight track and field events — including the shot put, discus and javelin — at last year’s Endeavor Games in Edmond. She also swam and played wheelchair basketball.
Without sports, Alexa said, “I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now. I probably wouldn’t be in the place I am now. Probably I’d just be sitting at home, doing nothing.”
Said Elesha: Sports “has given her a lot of confidence. It’s given her so many opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had.”
The coming months are dotted with additional opportunities. Alexa will compete in high-profile meets in April (California), May (Arizona) and July (Toronto). She hopes to qualify at Toronto for a world-class meet in Qatar in October.
Alexa now is affiliated with Sportable, a Richmond-based endeavor that seeks to provide and enhance athletic opportunities for individuals with physical and visual disabilities.
The concept of “team” is one of Sportable’s core values. Alexa never has attempted a race longer than a 5K — but her Sportable teammates urged her to enter this one.
“So I said, ‘Well, OK, why not? Let’s give it a try,’ ” she said.
She is nervous about neither the 6.2-mile distance nor the prospect of propelling her chair across exposed cobblestones on Monument Avenue.
Her only concern, she said, is geometry: The course contains four 90-degree turns and a less-severe bend when Monument Avenue spills onto West Franklin Street near the end of the race.
Abrupt turns pose a problem for a competitor in a racing chair — a problem that, if mismanaged, can transform speed into a formidable adversary.
“I’ll have to be careful,” she said. “When I’m turning, I’ll have to make sure I’m not going too fast.”
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