By Brendan Kurie, The Standard Times (New Bedford)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Since Josh Winsper was last competing at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, he’s attended two colleges, set personal bests in both his top events and committed himself more than ever to his ultimate goal: A spot in the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.
He’ll have his next chance on Sunday when he competes in the 2017 Paralympics on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, California.
“I think this year I’ll have fun and have a little more of an edge from last year,” said the Rochester native and Bridgewater State University rising sophomore. “We’ll see how my performances stack up. If not, it’s all about the experience.”
Winsper is no stranger to the national stage. In 2015, he set the discus record in Dwarf Class F41 at the National Junior Disability Games in Union County, New Jersey, with a throw of 72-feet, 9-inches.
Last summer, he competed at the U.S. Paralympic trials in the javelin and shot put — the discus isn’t offered — finishing second behind Hagan Landry in both the javelin and shot put.
“It was a learning experience,” he said of his experience in North Carolina last summer. “I think some of my performances weren’t what I wanted, but the big takeaway was it was the first one. It was my first big competition with all the elite athletes. I learned a lot about how to prepare myself for those kinds of meets. Now, having done it once, I’m prepared.”
He’s also been busy. The 2016 Old Rochester graduate, who has a bone growth disorder, achondroplasia, that causes disproportionate short stature as a child, meaning he has a normal sized head and torso but shorter limbs, started his college career at Merrimack College, but found it didn’t quite fit him — or his Paralympic goals — and he transferred to Bridgewater State in January.
“I didn’t feel I was getting the support I expected at first,” he said of Merrimack. “BSU made the transition easy. They started to get it, as far as what my goal is: Three years from now, I want to be in a spot to make the U.S. team and go to Tokyo.”
Winsper opened the outdoor track season by throwing a personal-best 87-feet, 8-inches in the javelin at the BSU Bears Invitational on March 25. He bookended his season with a personal-best shot put throw of 29-feet, 6-inches, more than two feet further than his best high school throw, at the MASCAC/New England Alliance Championships on April 29.
“It just happened,” Winsper said of his top shot put launch. “I’ve seen the video multiple times and seeing how the form was, it wasn’t what I thought when I threw it, it wasn’t the best form I’ve ever done.”
He also noted that while he never topped his opening distance in the javelin, he’s found more consistency throughout the season thanks to BSU throwing coach Al Blaisdell.
“He’s a good coach and has helped me a lot as far as the javelin,” Winsper said, noting he’s enjoying competing with his BSU teammates, including New Bedford High graduate Ellie Bucknell, who was training for the NCAA Division III National Track and Field Championships while Winsper was ratcheting up his training for the Paralympics.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I like being part of the group as a whole. I think that’s a plus about being here is there’s a lot of kids from the area. At Merrimack, there weren’t many locals.”
When transferring to BSU, Winsper decided on a physical education major with a concentration in exercise science.
“It’s something that’s going to keep me in the loop of Paralympics, or do something with that major as far as coaching,” he said. “I want to do something with people with physical disabilities.”
When he returns from Los Angeles — where his mom, Karen, the tech director at Norton Public School will join him, including a trip to see the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame — Winsper plans on settling into a quiet summer in Rochester, finding a job and hitting the weight room as he eyes the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
“I’m feeling healthy,” he said. “I’m ready to throw. It’s been a little too long.”