‘She Just Wanted to Go Fast’: The Stories of Carleigh DeWald and Jackie Wiles

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Today marks the final entry in our series on Canby’s remarkable athletes and sports heroes. These are not the final stories we’ve found in our scouring of the town’s history that intrigue and inspire us — far from it — but it’s simply time for us, in the coming new year, to pull on other threads in our continuing work of telling the story of Canby.

In this series, we have seen folks from our little town accomplish amazing things. We’ve seen a pint-sized former Clackamas County beauty queen out-shoot grown men in archery long-distance competitions.

We’ve seen a farm boy who was said to be “too fat,” go on to beat the greatest wrestler in the history of the sport, whom no other man had ever beaten, before or since.

We’ve seen a soft-spoken slugger, who grew up in the shadow of his Hall of Fame older brother, make it all the way to the Major Leagues, where Rogers Hornsby put him in the same company as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

We’ve seen a football coach whose wisdom was so great — and his snot rockets so legendary — his players are still talking about them almost 40 years later.

But today, we have two stories that may yet astound you even more.

Carleigh DeWald: Spirit of a Racer

Born with a form of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia, which severely limits motor control in the lower body, Carleigh DeWald did not appear destined for a future as an Olympic-level sprinter, competing against the top athletes in the world. But that’s exactly what she became.

As a child, she had to learn to focus her center of gravity much higher than those who have full control of their legs. She did this by balancing on a large, rubber ball and trying not to fall.

When something as simple as moving from one side of a room to the other takes a lifetime of physical therapy, it tends to breed a special kind of determination and competitive spirit — which would serve Carleigh well in her later endeavors.

For Carleigh, simply getting around required crutches, a walker or a wheelchair. But she soon found that “simply getting around” wasn’t exactly her speed. She took up wheelchair basketball and had a real talent for it.

Then, in eighth grade at Baker Prairie Elementary School, she tried wheelchair track for the first time. To her, it was just an opportunity that might help her get in better shape for basketball. But it would change her life.

For athletes with disabilities, track events may involve sleek, three-wheeled racing wheelchairs, or “racers.” They look sort of like a bared down go-kart, except the only engine is the athlete’s arms.

She soon caught the eye of Kevin Hansen, a Eugene-based track coach for athletes with disabilities and the director of World Wheelchair Sports. A promising college athlete, Hansen broke his neck in a skiing accident when he was 21 years old.

The accident left him almost completely paralyzed, though intense physical rehabilitation would eventually give him back some limited used of his arms.

Hansen trained Carleigh for numerous events, including a 400-meter sprint at the Oregon Relays in April 2011, when she set the American record for her classification and was first noticed by the Olympic Training Committee.

Her times qualified her for the U.S. Track Nationals in Miramar, Fla., which would be her first ever Paralympic event. Carleigh participated in two races. She finished last in both.

Far from defeated, Carleigh began training harder than ever, and was soon holding her on against much older and more experienced athletes. She earned a silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the Parapan American games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in November 2011, and continued to travel the globe following year, culminating with the Summer Paralympic Games, held in September 2012 in London.

As a 17-year-old senior at Canby High School, Carleigh DeWald had the honor of representing the United States under the brightest lights in sports. She was named 2012 High School Female Track Athlete of the Year by the US Paralympics.

In an interview with Ethos Magazine, Carleigh gave all the credit to her coaches, friends and family who had supported her: “I’ve had an amazing support group behind me. People focus so much on the athlete, but there are so many things that go into it. I didn’t get here by myself.”

Jackie Wiles: Peaks and Valleys

Imagine qualifying for the Winter Olympic Games as a 21-year-old downhill skier. Imagine competing as a crucial member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team for the next four years and qualifying for the Olympics again.

Imagine having the momentum on your side, being in the best shape of your life and all signs pointing toward you being a serious contender to bring home a medal in the second Olympics.

Then, imagine suffering a devastation and possibly career-ending injury, just days before you were set to board a plane with your teammates bound for PyeongChang.

All this, and more, happened to Aurora native and Canby High School grad Jackie Wiles.

Jackie grew up skiing the slopes of Mount Hood, first at Cooper Spur, then Mount Hood Meadows. Her older brother, Steele, recalled how she exhibited the trait that would come to define her athletic career even as a 4-year-old on the bunny slope.

“She just wanted to go fast,” he said.

Yes, Jackie wanted to go fast, and she did go fast. Her blazing speed and fearless drive to compete pushed her through high school athletics and then to the tops of the nation’s charts of competitive skiers before she could legally buy a drink.

She first blasted onto the scene in 2013, winning the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championship downhill title at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at age 20. She won it again the following year and went to her first Olympics, in Sochi, where she finished 26th.

Having come so close, getting back to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea would be virtually her only goal for the next four years as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. She competed in numerous World Cup events, winning a bronze medal in Austria in 2017 and another third-place finish in Italy early the next year.

She had found another gear in late 2017 and was skiing better than she ever had. Fans turned out in Europe to watch her compete before the Olympics. She had qualified for the downhill, super-G and alpine combined events, and many of those who follow the sport expected her to make the podium at least once.

That’s when disaster struck. Jackie was competing in a World Cup event in Germany, blazing down the slopes and wowing fans with breakneck turns like she had done countless times before.

But something went wrong this time. She lost control, spun out and stayed there, still conscious, but unable to put weight on her left leg.

The devastating inventory of her injuries would later become known: multiple breaks in both bones of her leg, a torn ACL, a torn LCL, and a torn meniscus. No Olympics. Perhaps no skiing — competitive or otherwise — ever again.

But Jackie never believed that. She remained a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, and with the same ruthless determination and indomitable drive that had made her a top contender for the 2018 Winter Games she would never attend, she poured herself into intense rehab with the goal of not only returning to the slopes, but returning better and faster than ever.

The schedule was grueling: six days a week, three times each day, physical therapy, strength training, cardio. For over a year.

But hey — if you’ve learned anything from this series, it has to be this: Don’t bet against the Canby Cougars.

In April 2019, Jackie hit the slopes at Mammoth Mountain in central California, skiing on real snow for the first time in 14 months. And — as of just a couple weeks ago — she is once again competing in World Cup events around the globe.

She’s already done two races in December, and if we know Jackie, she’s hungry for more. After all, the Beijing Olympics are barely two years away.

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