Local athlete AJ Digby to represent USA on Paralympic track & field team

AJ Digby, center, with his brother, Keegan, and sister, Ashlynn

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

When AJ Digby was born without fibula in both his legs, his parents believed he would never walk.

The doctor was reassuring. He’ll be able to climb trees, he said. He’ll be able to play soccer, his mother Robin Digby said.

When AJ Digby was 10 months old, both his feet were amputated. Soon he was fitted with his first prosthetics.

Now 18, AJ Digby has made the USA Paralympic Track & Field Team. He’s headed to Rio de Janeiro in September to represent the United States in the Paralympics.

AJ Digby with coach DJ Michel.

AJ Digby with coach DJ Michel.

This weekend the official announcement of the track and field. And though he’s already represented the USA in the World Games, making the Paralympic squad is “the pinnacle … the ultimate” said his father, Gordon Digby.

His parents are making their way back from Charlotte, North Carolina, where the trials were held, and where they experienced yet another milestone in their son’s sports career. It was their son’s second try at making the team. He participated in the trials in 2012.

He ran in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races, though it’s uncertain which events he’ll run in Brazil.

Born into a sports-obsessed family, his participation in sports isn’t surprising. “Our kids didn’t have a chance,” said Gordon, who played football and ran track. “They fell into sports very early.” Robin Digby competed in volleyball.

“We’re into all kinds of sports,” Gordon Digby said.

Despite using prosthetics, AJ Digby competed against able bodied athletes in a range of sports, basketball, soccer, hockey and his favorite, football.

Still as hard as he tried, his father said, there were limits to how competitive he could be until he started running. Blade technology leveled the playing field. Now he could show his best running against his friends and athletes from other schools.

“It was awesome to watch him continue to compete and progress and get faster and faster,” Robin Digby said.

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In May he graduated from Otsego High School. He’s intent on starting his freshman year at University of Mount Union less than two weeks before he has to fly off to Rio.

The Digbys are hoping they’ll be able to spring their two younger children, Keegan and Ashlynn, from school and sports commitments, so the family can all travel to the games.

Also, in two weeks AJ Digby will go to Buffalo, New York, to pursue his other sports passion – sled hockey. He’s a member of the developmental USA team and is working toward earning a slot on the national team that will compete in the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

“He loves that too because it’s a team sport,” Gordon Digby said. And the physical demands are “completely the opposite of track. It’s all upper body.”

For Robin Digby “one of the absolute best things is the people we meet along the way.” He’s made friends, people who’ve overcome similar difficulties. At the end of the day teammates and families can just relax around the hotel pool, she said.

AJ Digby can also look forward to collecting on a promise his father made to him. Gordon Digby said that if he made the Paralympic team, he’d buy him a Mustang, his favorite car.

The young athlete didn’t say anything about it after the news broke in Charlotte this weekend, but Gordon Digby knows, “there’s a Mustang in his future.”

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