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SYRACUSE — Hunter Woodhall grew up wanting to be just like his two older brothers.
He watched them play sports and saw no reason he couldn’t do the same.
“He’s never looked at himself as being disabled,” said his mother, Barb Woodhall. “He’s just one of the other kids.”
The fact Hunter is a double amputee has never kept him from participating in athletics.
“I think that I’ve kind of made it my mentality to not view it as a disability or something that is going to make it harder for me," he said.
Hunter was born without a fibula in his left leg and a fused ankle joint in his right leg. It’s a congenital birth defect called fibular hemimelia.
After consulting with doctors and a lot of prayer, his parents decided it would be best to amputate his legs below the knee. At an age when most infants start to walk, 11 months, Hunter became a double amputee.
It didn’t take long for his parents to notice his determination.
“We learned pretty early that if he wanted to do something he was going to find a way,” Barb said.
Thanks to prosthetics and a strong work ethic, Hunter has been able to do things that may have seemed impossible.
He has played baseball and football just like his two older brothers, and track is where he has excelled.
He’s had to work much harder than able-bodied teens his age, but it is something he hasn’t shied away from.
“He’s just continually amazed us with what he did do and how he would do it,” Barb said. “He would overcome every obstacle people would put in front of him.”
"I hear a lot of 'You won't be able to that' and 'you can't do that.' "When you hear that kind of stuff you kind of make it a goal to be able to prove those people wrong and show the world the things you can do and accomplish." -Hunter Woodhall
He is now a 16-year-old sophomore at Syracuse High School and is one of the top 400-meter runners in the state. He races with the help of prosthetics called blades.
“When I stepped on the track I knew that was where I was supposed to be,” he said.
Syracuse High track coach Roger Buhrley believes Hunter’s disability has made him a better athlete than he would have been if he were born with healthy legs.
“What he was born with has given him the drive and desire,” Burhley said. “It’s like he’s on a mission.”
He reached an important milestone recently at the state track meet. He qualified for the Class 5A 400-meter finals and eventually finished third. He was also a member of the Syracuse 4x100-meter relay team that finished first at state. He had one of the fastest 400-meter times among the state’s sophomores and will continue to contend for a state title in the next two seasons.
“I went out there expecting to be on the podium, and I ended up doing it," Hunter said. "Most importantly, I went out and had a good time.”
Hunter doesn’t just have his sights set on state titles. He has set goals to win gold medals at the Paralympic Games. He is well on his way having been selected for the U.S Paralympic team at just 16 years of age. He hopes to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Summer games in Brazil. He is giving up football to focus this fall on that goal.
Some experts believe he has a very bright future as a Paralympic athlete.
“An expert in the field told me that biomechanically and what he has that he could possibly be better than Oscar Pistorius," Buhrley said.
Hunter hopes to live up to those types of expectations and continue to prove doubters wrong.
“I hear a lot of ‘You won’t be able to that’ and ‘you can’t do that,'" Hunter said. "When you hear that kind of stuff you kind of make it a goal to be able to prove those people wrong and show the world the things you can do and accomplish.”
Along the way, Hunter has inspired many people and will continue to do so as he overcomes his disability and enjoys success on the track.
“We knew early on that God had a plan for him,” his mother said. “We continue to see things unfold in that plan.”