Leavitt coach Jamie Juntura rarely attends a track and field or cross country meet without a parent, athlete, fan or coach commenting to him about how impressive Jonathan Schomaker is in his wheelchair.

Leavitt’s Jonathan Schomaker competes in 1,600-meter race during an outdoor track and field meet in April at Maranacook Community School in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Schomaker, a senior, is wrapping up a storied career in Maine high school athletics at Saturday’s Class B track and field championships at Mount Desert Island High School. 

From being an inspiration to teammates and competitors as a freshman, to fighting for a chance to compete in postseason cross country meets as a sophomore, to traveling around America in adaptive track and field meets, Schomaker has left his mark throughout the state and beyond. 

And, every time he competes, more and more people take notice. 

“Throughout the whole career, it’s been an inspiration for other athletes,” Juntura, Leavitt’s track and field coach, said. “They realize that they couldn’t do it. They have no idea what it’s like, and then they look at him and say, ‘Dude.’ For him to do it as well as he does and with as much effort as he puts into it — he lives, breathes and eats this. It’s great to have someone like that to look up to.

“All I know is I’ve sat in the chair and tried to do it, and I can’t do it. Everywhere we go, there isn’t a meet we’ve gone to in his entire career where I don’t have a spectator, competitor, family member, coach come up to me and say, ‘He’s amazing.’ It’s constant.”

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Seeing is believing with Schomaker, who was born with cerebellar hypoplasia. Juntura said that sentiment was true when it came to Schomaker’s fight to compete in postseason cross country meets his sophomore season. 

First, Leavitt appealed to the Maine Principals’ Association to let Schomaker compete in postseason meets after being denied entry his freshman year. The appeal was rejected

Schomaker then was told that he could compete in a separate wheelchair race, but he wasn’t satisfied with that compromise. He even toured Twin Brook with the meet director in an effort to find a path for him to compete, but no MPA members were present to see how Schomaker navigated the course in his wheelchair.

Schomaker, his family and Leavitt Area High School continued to fight, and eventually the MPA changed its mind and allowed him to race with the other runners

Juntura, at the time an assistant coach for Leavitt’s cross country team, said that once members of the MPA saw Schomaker in action, their opinions changed. 

“I remember not understanding why it was such a process,” Juntura said. “I couldn’t quite put a finger on why. What I thought was cool about it was, (head coach) Neil Rioux convinced the guys at the MPA to just watch him, and when they watched him they immediately said, ‘Oh, we get it.’ It was a matter of not understanding, but once they understood they realized he wouldn’t be a danger to himself or anyone, he’s just a competitor doing something no one else has done before, which is so cool.”

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Schomaker has competed in every postseason meet since the MPA changed its rules 2019. His fight opened the doors for wheelchair athletes to compete in postseason meets in the future.

Fighting for the understanding of others, and to break down barriers, started for Schomaker and his family long before he competed in high school athletics.

“Nothing surprised me because we have had to fight for myself through the school system since I was in elementary school,” Schomaker said. 

Heading into the final outdoor state track and field meet of his career Saturday, Schomaker is looking to build off what was a huge KVAC championship meet at Cony High School last weekend. 

Schomaker finished the wheelchair 800-meter in 3 minutes, 14.20 seconds, the 1,600-meter in 6:41.32, had a top discus throw of 33 feet, 7 inches and a shot put toss of 14-6.25. Only his shot put mark is not a personal record for outdoor track and field. 

“KVAC was at Cony, and the track there is pretty fast for me,” Schomaker said. “It is old and worn down some and so I flew on that track. That track is pretty uniform in the turns, unlike this track (at Leavitt Area High School), where, since there’s a soccer field, the turns are pushed out to make way for the field.”

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During the indoor track and field season, Schomaker didn’t have a track to practice on, and he had just gotten a new racing wheelchair. It wasn’t until a couple weeks into the outdoor track season that he got comfortable with it. Once he did, he flourished. 

“All the time in the weight room got him really bulky, but the time on the track was really slow,” Jon Schomaker, Jonathan’s father, said. “So, he was chasing his times indoors and in the first couple outdoor meets, but finally his times the last three weeks are back. At KVACs he set huge PRs.”

Schomaker lifted weights all winter, which, according to his father, has made Jonathan stronger and faster. He’s also continued to compete in the Move United Adaptive Sports circuit and is preparing for Junior Nationals on July 16 in Denver, Colorado.

Schomaker showed his increased strength during a Move United Competition.

“He threw a shot put and broke the straps they put over your lap and body to hold you in the chair,” Jon Schomaker said.

“They say I have abs of steel,” Jonathan Schomaker added. 

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Schomaker relishes competing in Move United races because they offer him the chance to compete against other wheelchair athletes. 

“They’re actually sanctioned and I get to compete against other wheelchair racers,” Schomaker said. “I like having competition because it makes me go faster.”

Juntura said that if Schomaker had a car it would be a convertible.

“He’s a wind-in-his-hair kind of guy,” Juntura said. “He likes to go fast.” 

Schomaker spends a lot of time in cars with his dad, who has been with him every step of the way as he competes and as he fights for the right to compete.

“That means a lot because I get the opportunity to race,” Jonathan Schomaker said.

“It’s been good,” Jon Schomaker said. “I don’t regret one bit of time. It takes a lot of time, a lot of time away from work, but work is work and I can put that off, but you can’t get this back.”

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