Sam Houston High School’s own Jacob Waters started competitive cycling in March of this year. His first USA Cycling race was Race Du Lac in Lake Charles, where he placed third in his class. The 14-year-old freshman has since joined the Lake Charles Racing Team, and has competed in numerous races, placing well in competition against able-bodied and adult cyclists.
He has taken the competitive cycling circuit by storm, not just because of his accomplishments over such a short period of time, but because he has a challenge to overcome.
You see, Jacob is an amputee. I call that a challenge because Jacob does not allow himself to think of it as a disability, nor does anyone that knows him.
The USAC Race Du Lac was just a start for Jacob. “I really enjoy (cycling), and I turned out to be pretty good at it,” he says. He started with a bulky 27 lb. road bike, so his cycling friends and teammates pitched in and customized a lightweight racing bike for him. With a frame constructed from carbon fiber, his new bike weighs only 16 pounds.
He has since done extremely well at numerous races, including the 2014 USA Cycling Amateur and Para Road Nationals, and the Bike Crossing Mississippi Grand Prix. Jacob credits his coach, former pro cyclist Steve Katchur, with keeping him motivated.
It was during an exceptional performance at the 2014 Endeavor Games (Para-athletic games at the University of Central Oklahoma) in June of this year that he was noticed by Olympic scouts and invited to attend the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Emerging Talent Cycling Camp at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Cal. Jacob’s personal goal is to compete in the 2020 Paralympics, and then go on to compete in the regular Olympics in 2024.
A Born Fighter
Jacob was born with a very rare congenital disease called Jackson Weiss Syndrome. There are only 700 known cases in the world. The syndrome caused him to be born with multiple bone and joint deformities of the left foot and lower leg.
As the rest of his body grew and developed normally, his left leg only got worse. It wasn’t growing at the same rate as the other leg, and he was in constant pain. He could not run and play like the rest of the kids, and his lower leg and foot were an encumbrance to participating in most physical activities. He started riding a bike at an early age because it was an easier, less painful way to get around.
Over the first nine years of his life, Jacob suffered through four intensive surgeries in an effort to save his leg. These surgeries involved breaking of bones, insertion of metal plates, and months of painful recoveries. When he was 10 years old, he faced yet another round of surgeries, this time to fuse his ankle bones, a process that would destroy any mobility in his ankle. He knew that many more surgeries and breaking of bones would continue throughout his growing years.
At the tender age of 10, Jacob made the very difficult decision to have his leg amputated instead. Jacob’s mother, Misti Waters, told me of the day that he came to her and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I just want them to chop it off.” When I asked Jacob what he was feeling emotionally when he woke up from that surgery, he told me, “I didn’t feel the loss; all I felt was relief.”
Recovery was a long and rocky road. Rehabilitation was painful, and learning to walk on a prosthetic was clumsy and frustrating at first. Jacob questioned his decision to have the leg amputated, and struggled tirelessly to heal. Misti tells me how often during this long and grueling process she hid in the bathroom and cried where Jacob could not hear her because he didn’t want anyone “feeling sorry” for him. He showed such strength and determination
Little by little, Jacob mastered the prosthetic leg, and took on new challenges at every opportunity. Jacob’s physical therapist, Scott Lounsberry, and the crew at Athletic Republic in Sulphur, go above and beyond in helping Jacob with his sports training and physical therapy. Jacob is working hard on building his muscle strength in his legs, shoulders and back. “They are a great group of people,” Jacob told me. “They make it really fun.”
Competitive cycling is Jacob’s greatest passion, and he tries to put in an average of 150 miles a week for training. He is also on his high school cross country team, is active in the Boy Scouts, and volunteers with Ainsley’s Angels and Games Uniting Mind and Body (GUMBO), which organizes athletic events for children 5-18 who have physical and visual disabilities. But most of all, he enjoys spending what little free time he has riding dirt bikes with his brother, Cody.
When Life Throws You A Curve Ball …
One of the high points in Jacob’s life came in 2013, when he was one of the 20 youths in the U.S. selected to attend the first-ever Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Camp. “It was awesome, and we got to stay at the Disneyworld Resort in Orlando, Fla.,” he says. Jacob went on to tell me that he learned a lot from the members of Wounded Warriors, not just about baseball, but also about staying positive and never quitting.
When the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team returned to Sulphur in June of this year for the Battle on the Bayou II, Jacob had the privilege and honor of being their batboy for the games. The event was organized by Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch, (who resides in SWLA with her husband, former MLB pitcher Casey Daigle). They both played with the Bayou All-Stars, along with some of Finch’s Olympic teammates, former Dallas Cowboy David LaFleur, former NBA player Calvin Murphy, and Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. The event raised over $300,000, a new fundraising record for the WWAST.
A Heart The Size Of Texas
As Jacob’s competitive cycling career began to escalate, his mom and dad turned their focus to raising the funds necessary for Jacob to pursue his Olympic dreams. But Jacob had a different idea. He wanted to raise money so that other children with disabilities could enjoy the cycling experience as well.
Jacob’s vision was the birth of Acts in Motion, a non-profit charity organization with a mission: to provide cycling opportunities and equipment to children with disabilities in Louisiana.
Jacob saw his vision become a reality on Labor Day, 2014. He knew his friend, Cierra Theriot had always wanted to ride a bike, but had never thought it was possible. The 16-year-old Grand Lake High School student has been blind since infancy.
Jacob made arrangements with Bicycle Super Store in Lake Charles to borrow a tandem bike, and trained Cierra for her first ride. Friends and family cheered as Jacob and Cierra rode through Sam Houston Jones Park on that Monday afternoon. It was an awe-inspiring sight to see, and brought tears to my eyes.
Cierra tells me that she was a little nervous, and added, “I feel confident, because Jacob is in front, and he really knows what he is doing.” She went on to tell me, “He sounds really cute, too.” This event also inspired another recent amputee in attendance to get back on his bike again. At his young age, Jacob is already making a real difference in peoples’ lives.
Jacob is planning his first major fundraiser on April 11, 2015, in partnership with GUMBO. He is hoping that the money raised will help purchase some of the special equipment disabled youth need to be active and enjoy cycling opportunities. His advice to other kids, whether faced with physical challenges or not, is to “keep trying to be better, and never give up.”
Jacob tells me that the three components necessary to be a competitive cyclist are strength, speed and endurance. He credits much of his success to his mother, and told me, “I couldn’t do any of the things I do if I didn’t have such an awesome mom that devotes all her time and energy taking me to training, physical therapy and races.”
He has an outlook on life that is wise beyond his years. Jacob is an old soul with a huge heart. He has the tenacity, resilience and determination of a warrior, together with the compassion and vision of a humanitarian. I am honored to know him, and I look forward to following the progress of his career.