News & Updates

24 May 2022 • Track and Field

Speedster Jaxon targets Oceania Championships

Jaxon Woolley in action during the 2022 Chemist Warehouse Australian Track & Field Championships (Photo: Sebastian Giunta)

Jaxon Woolley says he was born to run and there is little doubting his statement. Aged just 16 the young Para sprinter already owns the U17/U18/U19/U20 and senior national 100m T38 records and the U19/U18 and U17 records for the 200m. Meanwhile, the teenager who competes for Athletics Tauranga also mixed it amongst the very best across the para talent from across the ditch to claim a trio of bronze medals in the U17 men’s para 100m, 200m and long jump at the highly competitive Australian Championships in Sydney earlier this year.

The next test for this young sprinting talent will come at the Oceania Area Championships in Mackay next month (7-11 June), when he takes to the start line of the 100m T38 hunting more precious metal on his hugely inspirational journey.

“I was born to be fast,” explains Jaxon confidently. “I don’t get nervous. When running at speed it feels like I have a monster energy drink on my back.”

For the Year 11 Papamoa College student to be excelling in athletics is a minor miracle but bears testament to his dogged determination and fierce desire coupled with the unstinting support of his family led by mum, Tash Bowden.

Born with polymicrogyria, Jaxon has cerebral palsy, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, Worster Drought syndrome (cerebral palsy of his mouth and throat muscles), and epilepsy. Mum Tash Bowden acknowledges that her son’s daily life is hugely impacted in many areas because of his condition with everything from dressing himself to being able to butter a slice of toast a real challenge.

“He finds eating hard, particularly chewing so we always have to be careful with what he eats,” explains Tash. “He doesn’t like to eat in front of others as it can get really messy. He has a hard time with his speech which has improved hugely, but it can be really frustrating for him when people don’t understand him so it takes him a long time and a lot of courage before he will try to speak to people he doesn’t know. I think the main thing is there are so many small things that we take for granted every day and the rest of us just do automatically, but he really has to work so hard to achieve his own independence.”

Yet sport has given Jaxon confident and the means with which to express himself. He used to play rugby “he enjoyed it because the team would just hand him the ball and he would run straight through and score every time” says mum. He did BMX racing for a period, even though a paediatrician told him he would never ride a bike, and last year he took up football, but it is through athletics Jaxon found his true calling.  

Having previously completed Parkrun’s with the family it was after competing in athletics at the 2018 Halberg Games, Jaxon caught the eye of New Zealand Para-athlete Keegan Pitcher, a 400m and 800m T36 bronze medallist at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships.

“He saw that I had run fast,” explains Jaxon. “So Keegan talked to me and said if I trained with his coach, Hamish Meacheam, I could be really good.”

Based in Auckland at that time he found training initially hard work “because my arms and legs didn’t do what I wanted them to do.”

But over time under Hamish’s guidance, he started to improve, and gradually he grew to love sprinting. At the 2019 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Wellington, he produced a breakthrough performance to win the junior boys Para 400m final – a race which will live long in the memory for Jaxon.

“I ran so hard I collapsed over the finish line. It was my best finish though as my chest went over the line first,” recalls Jaxon, who finished third in the 100m and 200m sprints and who at that time attended Wairau Valley Special School

At the 2020 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships he won the junior boys’ para 100m/200m and 400m treble but in early 2021 after the family decided to relocate from Auckland to settle in Papamoa it created some initial disquiet in the promising young sprinter. Frustrated because he wanted to continue his successful coach-athlete relationship with Hamish, he was fortunate after five months living in the Bay of Plenty to meet his current coach, Kerry Hill.

“I did a session with Kerry, and it got better from then! He is a great coach. He always makes sure that I am included in the squad and sometimes he jokes with me. He is really serious when it comes to training, but he really supports me to make sure I am the best athlete.”

Training three times a week at Tauranga Domain and two to three times a week at Adams Academy Gym the 2022 season has gone like a dream. Records have consistently tumbled in the 100m and 200m and he also added the long jump to his repertoire of events – not that it has been an easy relationship with his new event.

“I hate the sand because I feels weird on my feet, but I’m working on getting better at it, so I have the chance to compete in more events,” adds Jaxon, who also holds the U17 national long jump T38 record with a best of 4.30m.

Of the highlights of 2022 he cites smashing the New Zealand senior, U20, U19, U18, U17 men’s 100m T38 record of 12.42 on his 16th birthday at the 2022 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships as his standout moment.

He also revelled in the cool atmosphere of the Australian Championships saying he enjoyed the bigger crowds and it was “cool” to race in a full field of para athletes in his age group.

On the face of it, success would appear to come easily to Jaxon, however his condition means he has had to overcome some significant and varied challenges.

“I can’t do up my shoelaces. It’s difficult for me to do the blocks myself because it’s hard to use my hands because I have cerebral palsy, but I’m getting better at it. Training is a bit hard sometimes, especially in the gym, because I can’t hold some of the weights, so Kerry (Hill) helps me by changing the exercises. Because I also have hypertonia (too much muscle tone), I can get a lot of pain in my hamstrings and my neck, so I have to go to physio or get regular massage.”

Yet his passion of the sport and perhaps even greater love of winning acts as a primary motivation and next up he will be competing in the 100m T38 at the Oceania Championships, where he has some big goals.

“I want to beat everyone! But seriously the goal is to break my New Zealand record again and to get as close 12 seconds as I can for 100m. I would love to beat my 200m NZ record, because at my fastest this season had a windspeed of 2.1m/s.”

In the longer-term he is targeting an appearance in the at the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris before hoping to return to the French capital for the Paralympic Games the following year.

Whatever the future will bring, however, Jaxon hope to act an inspiration to others with the same condition.

“My disabilities make things hard, but they don’t stop me achieving what I want to achieve. I met a girl who was 12 in Australia with similar conditions to me and she was really inspired after she saw me race, and that made me want to work even harder.”

Yet prouder than even Jaxon at his accomplishments is mum, Tash. Believing athletics has helped Jaxon in so many ways from developing his arm and muscle strength, aiding his co-ordination and help develop his social skills, she is fizzing at how the sport has transformed him.

“I am so proud of his achievements both on and off the track. His success has been incredible, and I feel that every child, able-bodied or with a disability should have the chance to experience success in some aspect of their life. I think for him, this is just the beginning, he has come a long way very quickly, but it’s going to take a lot more work for him to carry on and achieve his goals. The thing I’m most proud of it his attitude, he is so determined and strong willed that I know he will go far with his athletics. Myself and his family will all support him every step of the way.”