TURNER — Freshman Jonathan Schomaker lined up on the starting line last week alongside cross country runners from around the state.
While most everyone was placing their feet in position for the starting gun to go off, Schomaker pushed the same arm bars on the same wheelchair he has used since he was six years old to the starting line, with his father, Jon, standing behind and ready to help. Written on Jonathan’s arms was, “This is our house,” a team-wide motto.
“‘This is our house’ is just something my team wrote on me, and the other Leavitt cross country runners have it on their legs,” Schomaker said. “I think it’s a motivational quote. This is our house, this is our home team so we should create something for other teams to remember.”
While Leavitt’s cross country course was certainly memorable for runners because it had more hills than runners remember from previous years, maybe the most memorable happening at the meet was Schomaker and his effort.
Schomaker was born with cerebellar hypoplasia, which means his cerebellum is smaller than usual or, as his father explained, “He basically has no cerebellum.”
Not for a second did Schomaker feel sorry for himself throughout the mile loop that he and his father completed last Friday in 20 minutes, 56 second. Not that day, nor any other day. Jonathan’s father won’t let him.
“I love it because I get to make him run, but on the other hand, I don’t love it because every time I slow down I kind of think of it as his way of being kind of mean to me,” Jonathan Schomaker said. “But it’s not mean to me, per se, he is just trying to get me going faster.”
While his father has been and still is by his side, or in Schomaker’s case, at his back, the option of quitting has been completely erased.
“He also has that little voice locked into my brain now,” Jonathan Schomaker said. “Not only that, the voice is saying, ‘Just keep going, you can do it, you’re better than this.’”
Schomaker started cross country three years ago when he entered middle school as a seventh-grader. It was love at first sight.
“The first year was great and the team was amazing,” Schomaker said. “They were supportive, everything was good and there was no drama.”
As an eighth-grader, Schomaker found that there was more drama on the team, but he stuck with it. Once he entered Leavitt Area High School, the team switched coaches from Dustin Williamson to Neal Rioux. Schomaker was familiar with Rioux because his older brother had been in one of Rioux’s English classes. Instantly, Rioux was impressed with Schomaker’s work ethic and drive.
“Jonny has been an inspiration for everyone this year, myself included,” Rioux said. “He is with us for every workout, and we try to be on the same routes for training as much as possible. His determination is without question. You couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
This year, Schomaker says the team is drama-free and has been a great joy to be a part of.
“They cheer me on,” Schomaker said. “The girls on my team are so impressed everyday when I come because I get faster and stronger by the day.”
Schomaker said he goes through physical therapy at Leavitt and also does push-ups, sit-ups and crunches to get his arms and core stronger to make going up hills easier. Practicing on Leavitt’s course everyday has definitely helped. He will need that strength when he competes at courses like Oxford Hills and Cony, the course that holds the KVAC championships.
While many athletes in wheelchairs rely on just their arms, Schomaker leans into the hills to gain as much speed as he can. Schomaker attacks courses head-on, and sometimes it comes back to bite him.
“His fearlessness has even earned him a spot in the bushes on the side of the trail at a couple of our recent races,” Rioux said. “He loves the downhills.”
Jon is there to help Jonathan, when he gets stuck on a hill or just needs help making a turn, as he has been his entire life. Since Jonanthan started high school, Jon has begun to let others help when he can’t make a practice. However, this has proven tougher than he thought.
“I go to practices with him, I run the trails with him,” Jon Schomaker said. “This year, we finally have a couple of volunteers that are helping. It’s kind of hard to let go, just yet, but we are getting there. We got to the hills today and I said, ‘No, no, go ahead.’ I can go run ahead and take pictures and enjoy it.”
Schomaker wants to be an inspiration to everyone in a wheelchair.
“I think I am a motivation, not for just myself, I am a motivation for my team and all other people in wheelchairs that come and watch cross country,” Schomaker said.
Little does he know that he inspires many around him, in wheelchairs and not.
“At every meet so far, especially as people are learning his name, the other athletes and the crowd begin chanting his name as he approaches the finish line,” Rioux said. “At our recent home meet, another racer from Mt. Blue even stopped during the race to help get Jonny back on course. People from all walks of life have also been stopping to talk to him after his race, and he patiently answers all their questions and shares his story. We have yet to be somewhere when that’s not been the case. As his father puts it, ‘He draws people in wherever he goes.’”
Schomaker and his father say they take the season one week at a time.
“We go to practice, and if there is a meet at the end of the week, we go,” Jon Schomaker said.
Rioux says that Schomaker will be competing at KVACs and at Regionals, something that Schomaker was hoping he would be able to do. Outside of high school races, Schomaker also competes in road races. In those, Schomaker goes so fast on the pavement that his father has to wear roller blades to be able to keep up.
Schomaker is still deciding whether or not to compete in indoor or outdoor track after the fall season is finished. It’s still up in the air. One thing isn’t, though, is Schomaker’s connection to his wheelchair.
“Any running sport, for all I care,” Schomaker said. “If I can keep using this (wheelchair), that will be great, because if this goes out the window, I go out the window.”