When she’s not competing, the most successful participant at the recently completed track and field state state meet spends most of her time wearing hard plastic orthotics on both of her ankles to help her walk.
When it’s time to hit the track, Delano junior Marissa Bartels climbs into a wheelchair and becomes one of the state’s top athletes.
Bartels, who was born with Spina Bifida (improper formation of the vertebrae around the spinal cord), rolled to four gold medals in the state meet’s wheelchair division, winning the 100-meter and 800-meter races and taking first in the shot put and discus championships.
“It was so fun this year,” said Bartels, who also plays wheelchair basketball and softball. “I’m still amazed that I could do what I did, especially with the weather on Saturday.”
Staff writer Jim Paulsen talked with Bartels about what led to her competing in a wheelchair and where, in turn, it’s taken her.
Q: How long have you been competing in wheelchair sports?
A: I didn’t start until I was in eighth grade. Up until then, I did able-bodied sports. I was able to keep up. I didn’t have the limitations I do now. Around seventh grade, I decided I couldn’t keep up with my basketball team anymore. My mom heard about wheelchair basketball and I decided to give it a try.
Q: How did that go?
A: At first, I was hesitant. But I decided to give it a try and I fell in love with it.
Q: Of the four championships you won, which is your favorite?
A: My 100-meter-dash. In the race this year, I was able to come back and beat the girl who won it last year. That was pretty cool.
Q: What was the key to that race?
A: For me, I was calm before the race. Then I had one of the best starts I’ve ever had. The start is the most important thing. That race is so short that if you fall behind right off the bat, you feel like you can’t catch up.
Q: What do you think will be your lasting memory of the meet?
A: People coming up to me and supporting me. The entire year, people from other teams have been coming up and saying they think what I do is so cool and that it’s awesome.
Q: What is one misunderstanding people have about wheelchair athletes?
A: People think they have to be so gentle around disabled athletes. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything. I can compete just as intensely as they can. I just want to be treated normally.
Q: What is the toughest part physically about competing in a wheelchair?
A: A lot of people think we don’t have to work as hard and don’t get as tired as other athletes. You have to work just as hard and probably even harder. The most important parts are your arms, your lungs and your abs.
Q: You’re not permanently confined to a wheelchair, right?
A: No. Usually I wear AFOs [Ankle Foot Orthotics] on my ankles. I have to make sure I keep using my legs so they stay functioning as good as they can.
Q: Talk about your other teams.
A: I play softball for the Junior Rolling Twins and basketball for the Rolling Timberwolves. I competed at the national tournaments and my team took the championship in both.
Q: When was that?
A: The softball was last August in Baltimore. The basketball was in March in Louisville, Kentucky.
Q: What message would you like others to take from your experiences?
A: If you like sports and want to keep playing them, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Do what you love to do.