Face Time: Josh Kennison — track coach, champion, congenital amputee

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When Joshua Kennison was born, his mom instantly knew he was a little different, but she was determined to raise him just like any other child. It was her determination and his father’s “stubbornness” that shaped him into who he is today: a bronze medal winner in the 100-meter dash at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France. Being born with no arms below his elbows, no feet and no tongue hasn’t slowed him down a bit.

Name: Joshua Kennison

Age: 27

Hometown: Norway

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Occupation: Footwear sales associate at Dick’s Sporting Goods, track and field coach at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel, motivational speaker and father-to-be in October.

Can you tell me a little bit about the challenges you had to overcome growing up as a congenital quadrilateral amputee? What would you say to kids facing similar challenges, knowing what you know now?Most of the challenges I had as a kid involved keeping up with classmates in the classroom or the lunch room. But at recess I was the fast one. I (believe) you can do anything you set your mind to as long as you have a positive mindset. If I could plant patience into everyone, I would, but you definitely have to learn patience. I also think I’m going to be learning a lot more once my daughter gets here!

What is Camp No Limits, and how are you involved with it? Camp No Limits (CNL) has been huge in my life. It started off in 2004 in Rome, Maine, at Pine Tree Camp. Mary Leighton, an occupational therapist, was working with a young boy actually quite like myself, missing four limbs. She realized that there wasn’t much happening for kids with missing limbs! So she had an idea to start a camp, where she could introduce occupational therapy and physical therapy to these kids so they could have a healthier lifestyle, but also give them a place to go so they could meet others like themselves and just be kids.

I first attended when I was 15, the summer I was heading into my sophomore year of high school. At that point I had mastered independency and life — or so I thought. I attended CNL with a pessimistic mindset on the drive up. After the first day or two I realized and understood that I could be a role model for kids with limb loss. If I had a camp like this when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have struggled so bad as a kid. At this point I’m an adult mentor, so I travel to about four to five camps each summer, usually the same locations, and I help kids and adults learn how to adapt to life, and be more independent.

Why is being physically active important to you? How does it affect your overall mental well-being and self-esteem? I really can’t afford to gain a lot of weight. I function every day because I’m able to bend down, twist and stretch. I am able to put my prosthetic legs on because I can reach down to Velcro the straps. Being physically fit definitely helps my self-esteem just like it does anyone else. 

What does your workout/exercise regimen look like, and what does your athletic background contain? I run in blades made by Ossur for leg amputees. When I was training (for the championship) I definitely had a lot of Subway. I drank a lot of water, but mostly I was at the track six days a week for two hours or more each day. Whether it was building up for a certain meet or just trying to get through the off season, you could always catch me at the track. During the season, I did a lot of sprint work, quick feet stuff, technical running stuff, and a little weight room. Off season I really built my muscles up and worked on sprint endurance — not fun stuff at all.

As for my athletic background, through school I played soccer and ran track. Outside of school I did everything else. For a month in high school I was on the Oxford Hills JV football team. I only did it to attract the ladies, but it didn’t work at all! But I play everything, from Frisbee to tennis. You name it and I have tried it. I love playing tennis with my buddy Travis Hilden — he owns In The Zone in South Paris, which has batting cages and a golf simulator — and teaching the kids at Camp No Limits how I throw a Frisbee and a football.

In your position as a track and field coach, what have you learned about yourself and teaching others? I’m definitely a go-with-the-flow type of guy. Always have been. And when I taught middle school soccer and track I could do that. Now that I’m a varsity-level coach I definitely can’t go with the flow. I have to plan practices, lessons and fundraisers. I also enjoy coaching not just the sport but life lessons. I have a lot to offer these student athletes, so I really try to incorporate as much as I can. I honestly can’t imagine having me as a coach. I’m not sure how I would see myself, but I absolutely love the kids at Telstar. I have coached at Oxford Hills and Telstar, and I definitely miss my middle-schoolers at Oxford Hills, but Telstar athletes have this drive about them, and we’re all a tight family. I really feel that. 

emarquis@sunmediagroup.net

Joshua Kennison uses walking prosthetics and running blades for the many activities he pursues.
Joshua Kennison, 27, was third in the 100-meter dash at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.
Joshua Kennison uses walking prosthetics and running blades for the many activities he pursues.

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