Nick Mayhugh was a soccer player a little over a year ago and admits he’s still learning how to be a track and field athlete.

Luckily, he’s a fast learner.

Mayhugh, 25, booked his spot in the men’s T37 100-meter final with a world record sprint of 10.97 seconds in the morning session at National Stadium on Friday. He returned to the track that night and lowered the world record again to claim gold in his Paralympic debut.

“It’s just an indescribable feeling,” Mayhugh told The Japan Times. “It’s just a testament to all the hard work and preparation I put into this. It just feels so good to wear this (U.S.) flag around my neck and know that I went out and gave it my best, and the best was the best in the world.”

Mayhugh ran a 10.97 in the early session, becoming the first T37 (one of the classifications for athletes with cerebral palsy) runner to crack the 11-second barrier. He clocked 10.95 in the final, easily beating the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Andrei Vdovin, who finished in 11.18.

Amazingly, he didn’t feel like either world-record run was his best race.

“That track is so fast, I’m in the best shape of my life,” Mayhugh said. “It feels good knowing that I set two world records, I won gold. But the crazy thing is that I can run a lot faster.”

Nick Mayhugh during the medal ceremony | OLYMPIC INFORMATION SERVICES / VIA AFP-JIJI
Nick Mayhugh during the medal ceremony | OLYMPIC INFORMATION SERVICES / VIA AFP-JIJI

Mayhugh was born with a form of cerebral palsy and has felt numbness on the left side of his body for most of his life. The numbness is a result of a stroke he suffered in utero. He had a seizure in 2010 and the resulting treatment led doctors to diagnose him with cerebral palsy, which also explained the numbness he always felt.

The diagnosis hit the American hard. He had played soccer since he was 4-years old but stopped for three months.

The impairment did not keep him down, however. Mayhugh went on to join the soccer team at Radford University in North Carolina and also the U.S. para 7-a-side soccer team.

In 2019, Mayhugh, inquired about participating in track and field. That put one of the United States’ top soccer players — Mayhugh was named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year with a Disability in 2019 — on a new path.

“There were a lot more days than not that I wanted to give up, that I was second guessing myself,” he said. “To go from the top of one sport and to try to reach the top of another is incredibly difficult.

“You know, a lot of people told me it was virtually impossible. But as soon as someone tells me I can’t do something, I become obsessed with it, hyper focused, and I’m not going to stop until I get it done.”

Nick Mayhugh of the United States reacts after winning gold and setting a new world record. | REUTERS
Nick Mayhugh of the United States reacts after winning gold and setting a new world record. | REUTERS

Mayhugh worked to train his body for sprinting and stayed up until the early hours of the morning watching videos of Jamaican legend Usain Bolt and other sprinting greats.

“I would look up 100-meter finals and just pause it every split second, and try to focus, learn what they did, learn to become a true track athlete,” he said.

The one-year delay in staging the Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave Mayhugh more time to get used to the sport.

“A year ago, I wasn’t a track athlete, I was a soccer athlete trying to run track,” Mayhugh said. “I’m here now, and I’m a true track athlete.”

After winning a gold medal and setting a world record at his first Paralympics Games, Mayhugh seems to be sprinting toward a bright future in the sport.

“I run a hell of a lot faster, that’s where I go,” Mayhugh said. “I’m just trying to get the best out of myself.

“I know that there’s a lot left in the tank. I’m only 25, so I’m going to be in the sport for as long as it will have me.”

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