College Programs Finally Ready To Take A Chance On Hunter Woodhall

Video by Associate Producer Billy Cvecko

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Hunter Woodhall's journey in track and field will continue beyond high school.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the star sprinter from Utah, who is a double-amputee and competes with prosthetic blades, will choose between three programs: Long Beach State, Arkansas and North Carolina.

But for a time, he wasn't so sure it would.

While the Syracuse (UT) High senior, who is ranked US No. 20 in the 400m run with a time of 47.32 seconds, has had more than a handful of huge successes over his time as a prep athlete, including a silver and bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio -- in the 200m and 400m -- his college future hasn't always been so cut in stone.

Woodhall was born with Fibular hemimelia, a birth defect where he was born without fibulas. His parents decided to amputate both of his legs as a child.

He came across some concerns early in the recruiting process about his T33/34 classification as a double amputee. Woodhall said reached out to as many as 18 programs early on without any correspondence.

That meant no word from programs before or after the November early signing period and little ahead of the regular period, which began April 12.

"A little difficult is a good way to describe it," Woodhall said. "Up until the last month and a half, I didn't have much contact with anybody. That's not to say I didn't reach out though."

Some of that concern, he believed, revolved around program's uncertainty about NCAA Division I rules. Would his eligibility be in jeopardy by the use of prosthetic blades?

But over the last 20 years, barriers have been crossed.

Two decades prior, Aimee Mullins became the first double-amputee ever to compete in NCAA track and field with Georgetown University.

Two seasons ago, Nicky Maxwell, a single-amputee from London, England, enrolled at Harvard University with the intentions of competing in track and field, but needed a special approval from the NCAA Rules Committee to do so.

This past year, AJ Digby, a former Paralympic Athlete of the Year, enrolled at Mount Union College, a Division III program, and was an All-American after a second-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

The only difference with Woodhall may come with his opportunity. He could become the first college track and field athlete to earn a Division I athletic scholarship in track and field.

"Every single one of these schools, it started with the fact that they believed in me," Woodhall said. "UNC is a big deal because of their academic reputation. Arkansas obviously is killing the game right now with SEC titles and Long Beach State, they've been really good to me and my Paralympic coach lives nearby in San Diego."

Woodhall, who has claimed one outdoor state title in the 400m and two over the indoor season, remains positive.

His times are still getting better. He lowered his PB in the 400m to a Utah No. 1 time of 47.32 seconds recently at the Davis District Invitational. And then he added another in the 200m at the Grizzly Invitational in 21.69 seconds, good for Utah No. 5.

He even dropped under 11 seconds for the first time in the 100m this spring, finishing in 10.91 seconds at Davis.

"A lot of schools weren't giving me the time of day," he said. "And I appreciated the fact that these schools fought for me. In my mind, you don't have to go to a huge school to do a lot on the track."

Whatever happens, Woodhall knows his career is just getting started.

"I could have taken a lot of different directions," he said. "I decided from the advice of others that I needed to dream big to be able to do big things. If running in college was easy, everyone would do it. Ultimately, I want to break some barriers and change some people's perceptions of what's possible."

He'll get his chance soon enough.