Nick Mayhugh played football for Radford University.
He will now participate in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, in athletics.
Mayhugh, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was in ninth grade, will compete in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 4×100 relay in Tokyo. The Paralympic Games begin on Tuesday with the Opening Ceremony.
“Once I decide on something, I go for it, I become obsessed with it and I’m going to be the best athlete I can be, no matter what it is,” Mayhugh, 25, said during a recent telephone interview. . “For the past year and a half, I have done nothing but dedicate everything mentally, physically and emotionally to becoming the best track athlete I can be.”
Mayhugh competed internationally with the US Paralympic Soccer Team. But soccer is not part of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, so Mayhugh decided two years ago to try to make it to Tokyo in athletics.
“Being able to represent my country internationally playing football felt more natural to me. I feel like I was put on this earth to play football,” said Mayhugh, who grew up in the city of Northern Virginia. Gainesville. “It’s just second nature to me. But athletics is something completely alien, so I had to…learn a life of a sport in such a short time.
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“Do a marathon [running style] athlete like football, trying to make the transition to becoming a sprint athlete is next to impossible, but I never hesitate to push my limits.
“It feels really good to know that I will be going to my first Paralympic Games and representing my country at this level. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of. … I’m just super excited.”
As a child, Mayhugh always felt some weakness on the left side of his body. He had trouble doing things with his left hand.
He stayed away from sports like football which involved catching a ball with both hands. But he was able to play football, although he used his right foot most of the time.
In 2010, when Mayhugh was in ninth grade, he suffered a grand mal seizure.
A test revealed a dark mass on the right side of his brain. An MRI revealed the mass to be dead space. The neutral had caused weakness in his left side.
A neurologist told him he could never play football again.
But a pediatric neurologist eventually determined the cause of the dead spot. Mayhugh had suffered a previously undiagnosed stroke in the womb (during a high-risk pregnancy) or at birth. He suffered from a mild form of cerebral palsy.
This neurologist told Mayhugh there was no reason he couldn’t play football anymore.
Mayhugh was able to return to the football field six months after his seizure.
He eventually became a non-scholarship member of Radford’s men’s football team in 2015.
In May 2017, he saw a USA Soccer commercial for the US Paralympic National Team. To be eligible, players must have suffered a stroke or head injury or have cerebral palsy.
He tried out for the team and made the team.
In September 2017, Mayhugh played for the United States at the International Cerebral Palsy Federation World Soccer Championships in Argentina. He then joined Radford’s side for the remainder of the 2017 season.
When interviewed by The Roanoke Times for a 2017 profile, Mayhugh discussed his 2010 seizure, the mass on his brain and the undiagnosed stroke. But he didn’t say he has cerebral palsy – a term he used in the recent interview.
“I hesitated a lot [in 2017] to admit it or admit it,” Mayhugh said in the recent interview. “I didn’t realize that my story and me admitting it might help other people.”
Mayhugh started for Radford in 2018, when he also played for the United States in the International Cerebral Palsy Football Federation’s Copa America tournament. He graduated from Radford in December.
He competed for the United States at the 2019 International Cerebral Palsy Federation Soccer World Cup in Spain. He has scored 11 goals in this tournament, including five in one game.
Mayhugh also helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Peru. He has scored eight goals in this tournament.
In December 2019, Mayhugh was named American Football Player of the Year with a Disability by the United States Soccer Federation.
He scored 34 goals in 25 career games with Team USA. The team hasn’t been in action since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayhugh plans to join that team next year.
Mayhugh gets paid to play football for Team USA. He has also given speeches about himself in schools and hospitals over the past three years.
“I was fortunately able to help many other people – parents and children who went through what I went through, helped them realize earlier than me that everything was fine [to have a disability],” he said.
With one eye on the Tokyo Paralympics, Mayhugh started talking to people in 2019 about trying to make Team USA in track and field. He hadn’t run on the track since middle school, when he ran distance events to stay in shape for football.
Justin Kavanaugh, the Northern Virginia-based strength and conditioning coach Mayhugh had previously worked with, told him in 2019 that he could help him win a medal on the Tokyo track.
“From the first day I sat across from my trainer and told him I wanted to do this, I’ve had the world records and the times I wanted to beat recorded in my bedroom and my bathroom and in my living room,” Mayhugh said.
While in Peru to play soccer at the 2019 Parapan Am Games, Mayhugh met U.S. Paralympic athletics coach Joaquim Cruz. He told Cruz that he would commit 110% to follow.
Mayugh began track training with Kavanaugh in November. He trained 10 hours a day, six days a week.
“For the first six months to probably almost a year, it was the most humbling experience,” Mayhugh said. “I have never felt so unathletic, more uncomfortable trying to do something.
“My running mechanisms were all out of whack because I was playing football – [where] you must be ready to go in any direction at any time. The track is completely different.”
In March 2020, the Paralympic Games in Tokyo were postponed for a year due to the pandemic.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I was offered another year to…get better.
“I was a football athlete trying to run on the track. Over the past year, I’ve become a track athlete.”
Mayhugh moved to Charlotte, North Carolina later in 2020 but continued to train. His brother coached him in Charlotte, while Kavanaugh watched Mayhugh’s videos and talked to him on the phone.
The 6-foot, 160-pound Mayhugh shone in the 100-meter and 200-meter races at the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials in Minneapolis in June. Mayhugh competed in the T37 class, which is for athletes with cerebral palsy who have his level of coordination. At trials, he broke the T37 100-meter world record with a time of 11.21 seconds and broke the American T37 200-meter mark with a time of 22.80.
“It was exciting,” he said.
Mayhugh is ranked No. 1 in the world in the T37 class in the 100 and 200m, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he won a medal or two in Tokyo.
“The job is not done,” he said. “I’ll feel a little better when I go home with some gold medals.”