Even the coach admits his “mind is blown.”
“When I see him out there, he looks natural to me,” said Arkansas Men’s Track and Field Coach Chris Bucknam.
Hunter Woodhall, a sophomore sprinter for the Razorbacks, is the first double amputee to earn an NCAA Division I scholarship in track and field.
“This whole journey and this whole reason I’m in college is to show people what’s possible,” Woodhall said.
A two-time Paralympic medalist, he earned first team all-American honors at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last spring against able-bodied runners. He already has a first place finish and personal best indoors this winter.
He has attained this success despite being born with an underdeveloped fibula, which reaches from the knee to the ankle. Both legs were amputated below the knee when he was a baby.
“No matter what situation you’re born with, no matter what situation you’re in in life, you’re the only one that can stop yourself from accomplishing your goals,” he said.
Growing up in Utah, he competed in everything from skiing to soccer to football, but he took to track.
“When I got my first pair of running legs, it’s just like this feeling of freedom. It’s hard to explain.”
When he initially started sprinting for his high school, few expected he would actually win.
“It was just people being content that I was showing up. ‘The kid without legs was running.’ And I would kind of get the sympathy clap.”
Winning cures all. Woodhall went from spectacle to state champion to state superstar. He didn’t stop there. He wanted to compete in college, but received few scholarship offers. Arkansas was one of only a handful of power programs bold enough to recruit him.
“It was really just a lack of knowledge of the situation. No one without legs has ever ran division one,” Woodhall said.
Coach Bucknam noticed his speed, but that’s not what convinced him Woodhall was worth targeting. It was his mental fortitude and confidence.
“You gotta take some risks anyways if you want to be good, right? We were willing to take a risk with him,” Bucknam said.
“From my visit, being on campus, just the whole entire experience showed me this is the place I need to be. These people are going to fight for you,” Woodhall said.
Woodhall’s audacity to compete in the SEC, which Bucknam calls the “devil’s den of sprinting,” is just as admirable.
“If you want to be the best, you gotta go to where the people are the best. You gotta beat the best,” Woodhall said.
Arkansas helped Woodhall receive special permission from the NCAA – a waiver of sorts – to compete alongside able-bodied runners. Bucknam said it was actually a simple process, however Woodhall’s freshman season was not as easy. He struggled last winter. This season is a different story.
“He’s an NCAA all-American and we just know the sky is the limit now,” Bucknam said.
With Woodhall’s attitude, the sky will always be the limit.
“If there’s somebody in the stands that maybe doesn’t believe in themselves, or for whatever reason, if they can see me run, or whatever else I do, if I can inspire them to say, ‘you know what, let me go do something,’ that’s special to me.
“That means more than times, medals, places, anything like that.”