He was born with spinal dysgenesis, a condition which resulted in paralysis from the waist down, but 17-year-old Nathan Rainge of O’Fallon doesn’t let disability slow him down.
In fact, he goes much faster than most.
He’ll soon be defending three wheelchair division championships he won at last year’s IHSA State Track and Field Meet.
A member of the St. Louis Junior Rolling Rams — a coed, competitive wheelchair basketball team — Rainge at first wasn’t interested when he was asked about competing in track. But he came around to it.
“It was from a lady named Kelly Behlmann from DASA (Disabled Athlete Sports Association) who wanted to know what sports I was in and if maybe I was interested in maybe doing track and field,” Rainge recalled. “It turns out that I was and that I’ve ended up being pretty good at it. Basketball is probably my favorite and is probably what I’ll end up doing in college. I love track too, but I’ve played basketball longer and I have a great love for the game.’’
With the Rolling Rams’ season ending in April, Rainge, a junior at O’Fallon High Township School, currently has his attention focused back on the track, where he is the state record holder in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter events.
Rainge in his second year of rolling down straightaways and speeding around the curves of metro-east high school tracks. But he had to be sold on competing in track and field for the Panthers — at least at first — by O’Fallon coach Ron Koch.
“I knew of Nathan and I remembered watching him play basketball when he was a little kid. But it wasn’t until I cornered him one day in the gym that I really think he had considered competing in track and field in high school,’’ Koch said.
It wasn’t until I cornered him one day in the gym that I really think he had considered competing in track and field in high school. I said. ‘Nathan, you see those banners with the names of the state champions hanging on the walls? You can have one of those too. You can be a state champion.’
Ron Koch, O’Fallon track and field coach
“I said. ‘Nathan, you see those banners with the names of the state champions hanging on the walls? You can have one of those too. You can be a state champion.’ There was a big smile cross his face. He liked that idea. We had to kind of talk him into it but I think he’s had a lot fun. Nate is kind of a celebrity at all the track meets. Everybody is always applauding and I always know when Nate is on the track because everybody is always cheering.’’
Rainge remembers his first experience with the O’Fallon track program.
“Coach Koch had seen me compete in the summer and last year he came to me and told me that if I came in and worked hard that I maybe could win state,’’ Rainge said. “I’m really a lot more comfortable in the sprint events than in the distance events. I mean, I’ll do an 800-meter race once in a while, but I really feel like I’m best in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
“The thing I like most about track is the individuality of the sport. It’s just you out there and you get out of the sport what you put into it. If you do the work and train the way you are supposed to train, then the results will follow. It’s tough early in the year to do the workouts, but once the season gets going it’s not difficult to get motivated.’’
While Rainge competes in track and field at this time of year, March and April are perhaps his busiest months. Playing with the Junior Rolling Rams until late April, Rainge is limited to working out with the track team to three times per week.
The first love..... basketball
The son of B.J. and Karen Rainge, Nathan still refers to basketball as his favorite sport and has been playing with the Rolling Rams for several years.
“I remember watching an NBA game when I was really young and thinking how much fun it would be if I could play,” Rainge said. “The next week my family was looking for wheelchair basketball programs in which I could play. I’ve been playing since. I guess you could call me a point guard but I can play all over. Let me put it this way, whatever you need me to do I can do.’’
Like I said we’re no different at the state meet than anybody else. We’re out there wearing our school colors and competing the best we can to represent our school.
Nathan Rainge, O’Fallon athlete
The Rolling Rams are a co-ed team featuring players from ages 6-18 with disabilities of all kinds . At 17, Rainge is one of the oldest and most experienced players on the roster.
“We have a young team and basketball skill-wise, I’m probably the most experienced player on the team,’’ he said.”We have kids who have different disabilities like cerebral palsy, who are just learning and having fun playing the game. I just try to do what I can and help anybody who is trying to play.’’
Rainge hopes more basketball is ahead of him at the college level in a couple of years. He is interested in a few schools including Illinois and Missouri. But with his work on the track and prospect of even more success has added to the sports allure.
“My original plan was to concentrate on basketball in college and use track and field to help me cross train and get me faster and stronger so that I can go right by the defense,’’ Rainge said. “But with the success I’ve had in track and field, I’m thinking of maybe training in the spring and then competing in summer track and field events.
“What would I like to do with my track and field someday? The Olympics. The Olympic team.’’
Rainge has gotten bigger and stronger thanks to his on-going weight room work and a conditioning class at O’Fallon High School. He’s a good bet to smash the state records of 19.93 seconds in the 100 meters, 38.69 in the 200 meters and 1:09.9 in the 400 meters that he set a year ago.
Rainge has already gone lower this season. His personal best in the 100 meters is 17.8 seconds, 33.5 seconds in the 200 meters and 1:05 in the 400 meters.
One thing that could help him would be if more wheelchair athletes competed at the state level. A year ago, only Rainge and El Paso-Gridley senior Nathan Schuertz competed in the wheelchair division.
“I think it would be great if we would have five or six lanes filled,’’ Rainge said. “If there are two lanes, three lanes or more filled, competition wise its not going to matter to me because I”m going to go out and try to go as fast as I can no matter what.
What would I like to do with my track and field someday? The Olympics. The Olympic team.
“My hope is that someday soon we’ll have more wheelchair athletes out here competing for their high schools and hometowns. We’re just like everybody else. We’re no different.’’
Another person who is hoping more wheelchair athletes compete is Koch, especially if is true that the Illinois High School Association considers adding the wheelchair division points with the team points for the final standings.
“It’s conceivable that we could get Nathan another event because there has been talk about combining the wheelchair events into the team points at the state meet,’’ Koch said. “I know the wheelchair division has been a great deal for him and he’s still got a couple of years left. He’s already a three-time state champion and I think he’s already posted times this year that are better then the ones in which he won the state titles with last year.’’
Rainge thinks the points should be added as well.
“Like I said we’re no different at the state meet than anybody else. We’re out there wearing our school colors and competing the best we can to represent our school,’’ Rainge said. “I don’t think its right that you have a trophy for a wheelchair team state champion. We’re just like any other athletes. I think the points should be added together.’’
An average teenager
Although basketball and track and field are major parts of his life, Rainge does have other interests. A good student, Rainge also spends ample time working on his academics and also spends time being a teenager. He may even take up lacrosse.
“A lot of my friends are playing lacrosse and so I’m thinking about maybe playing too,’’ Rainge said. “Other than that, I just like hanging out with my friends and going to the mall.’’
Koch said that Rainge is well respected by the other members of the Panthers track team.
“Heck, he’s a three time state champion. He gets what he wants,’’ Koch said. “I know he plays basketball and that’s probably his No. 1 sport. I haven’t seen him play since he was a little kid, but I understand he’s a very talented basketball player. I wish all of the talented basketball players would come out for the track team.
“Overall, he’s a typical high school kid. He drives, he has friends he hangs around with and he likes to kid around and have a good time.’’