Glenbard West's Lettenberger ready to defend wheelchair titles in track
Ahalya Lettenberger likes being competitive. She certainly gets enough practice at it.
While being a top swimmer with an eye on being in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo or battling in the Chicago Triathlon would be enough for most people, Lettenberger — a sophomore at Glenbard West High School — has found time for another area to take on others.
Last year at the Class 3A state track meet in Charleston, Lettenberger won the 200- and 400-meter wheelchair races and finished second in the 100-meter race. It was her first year competing in the events.
“It was so much fun,” Lettenberger told the DuPage Policy Journal.
Swimming has been Lettenberger's big sport, but she has found that adding in wheelchair races has been a smooth fit.
Lettenberger was born with a condition — arthrogryposis and bilateral hip dysplasia — that inhibits her lower-body range of motion. While the hip pain that comes with the condition hampered her in sports such as softball and requires her to use a wheelchair to go long distances and at school, she started up with swimming in 2012 when she was 11 years old. Her success in that sport has been highlighted so far by winning gold in the S8 100-meter backstroke at the Parapan American Games in January 2016 in Toronto.
However, people she knew at Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association suggested she try wheelchair racing. Lettenberger said she also was encouraged by fellow GWHS student Daniela Polencheck, a junior who also competes — and succeeds — at wheelchair racing. With her condition, Lettenberger does not kick with her legs while swimming, meaning her arms are in strong shape. In wheelchair racing, especially in the sub-800-meter races, the arms are moving the wheels throughout the contest.
“I feel I've adjusted better to track because of swimming,” Lettenberger said.
Her training regimen for wheelchair racing also includes weightlifting sessions a few times a week and shoulder exercises.
Last August, she found time to slip in competing in the triathlon. After the swimming portion of the event, Lettenberger used a hand cycle for the bicycling portion and then a wheelchair for the running portion.
“It was really fun, really fun to incorporate both track and swimming into a race,” she said.
While a lot of her focus now is on defending her state titles this spring, Lettenberger — in addition to working toward the aforementioned Paralympics berth — also would like to swim while in college.
“Through sports, I've really learned to accept myself for who I am,” she said.
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