Wheelchair can’t stop Cheyenne Leonard’s pursuits

Being born with a broken back never has kept Cheyenne Leonard from participating in track and field.

Leonard, who has been involved in track since she was 6, raced in her wheelchair for Arbor View’s track team two years ago as a sophomore but wasn’t eligible to participate in the postseason.

But that changed this year when the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association allowed Leonard to compete in postseason meets — and for her score to count for Arbor View.

“I’m really excited about being able to score points,” Leonard said. “I was happy when I was able to be on the team, but … I need to be able to win, and I need it to matter when I do.”

Leonard is expected to compete in time trials in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at next month’s Sunset Region meet. She’ll race separately from the able-bodied competitors, but her times will be compared with theirs.

She’ll be awarded points based on her finish, though no points will be taken away from any other athletes. For instance, if Leonard’s time beats the top able-bodied finisher, both athletes will receive the maximum 10 points for the event.

Her points will be added to Arbor View’s score and could help the Aggies to a team title.

The meet will be scored as normal, and then Leonard’s points will be added. If Arbor View moves into first or second, the Aggies and whatever team originally finished in the first- or second-place spot each will receive a trophy.

If Leonard’s time matches or beats the final state qualifier from Southern Nevada, she’ll compete in the Division I state meet under the same rules.

Arbor View coach Tyrel Cooper said Leonard’s ability to score in postseason meets is important for the athlete and team.

“She has always loved competing, but … she wasn’t really competing for our team,” Cooper said. “Now she is really excited to be able to score for us, and the team loves it. In terms of our team standings with her, she is an extra 16 to 20 points at region and state for us. That’s huge, especially at the state meet.”

As a sophomore, Leonard posted times of 5 minutes, 55 seconds in the 1,600 and 11:33.1 in the 3,200. But she also was in a school play that season and practicing only every other day.

Leonard moved to California last year to pursue acting but returned to Arbor View for her senior year and is training full time.

She has improved her times dramatically since 2011. Leonard’s top times for the 1,600 (5:03.2) and the 3,200 (10:39.1) rank among Nevada’s best. She’s just behind Centennial’s Sydney Badger (5:01.43) for the top spot in the 1,600 and is slightly ahead of Badger’s time of 10:40.07 in the 3,200.

“She has insane upper-body strength; she can pull herself up or down the bleachers and stairs if necessary,” Cooper said. “But her chair is her main mode of transportation. She has her daily chair and then a three-wheeled racing chair she uses on the track. She works out for two hours a day like everyone else.”

Donnie Nelson, assistant director of the NIAA, is excited about Leonard’s participation in the postseason.

“Cheyenne, should she qualify appropriately by time and place, will most definitely be an integral competitor in the region and state meets,” Nelson said. “I see Cheyenne as a pioneer, and I hope this will lead to other wheelchair athletes competing in NIAA track and field meets.”

In March, Leonard was crowned as the first Miss Teen Wheelchair Nevada, an honorary title given to a dynamic girl in the community who has a disability.

Leonard has plans to compete after high school. She has been accepted on the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports team to represent the United States in Puerto Rico in August.

And she has been offered a scholarship to Arizona, which she says has one of the country’s best disabled sports programs, though she’s unsure of where she’ll attend college, noting that she’s interested in some schools in California for their theater programs.

“I may even stay here and attend UNLV,” Leonard said. “I can spend the year competing and enjoying my year as Miss Teen Wheelchair Nevada, where I can work in the community and bring awareness of the importance of inclusion and help other disabled athletes.”

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