The sport of wheelchair racing has seen tremendous growth over the last decade, and a new generation is already making a huge impact on the sport. Jason Robinson, a high-school student from upstate New York, is one of those young athletes who is taking the wheelchair racing world by storm.
Days away from his 17th birthday, Robinson already has an impressive legacy. He has competed at the national and international level in youth athletics, including a win at the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile youth wheelchair race, and has also had a huge impact on wheelchair racing at the state level. Robinson helped push through legislation that benefits wheelchair athletes across the state of New York and became the first wheelchair athlete to compete alongside his able-bodied peers at the high school state championships to name a few of his accomplishments.
Now, Robinson will be taking on the streets of New York City with his professional debut at the United Airlines NYC Half on March 15. While he is preparing for the big day, we had the opportunity to talk with him about his career so far.
When did you first discover your love of racing?
I would say that I first discovered my love for wheelchair racing when I was four. While I didn't start racing until I was ten, I was first introduced to the sport at the Boilermaker 15k in Utica. My parents and I would come down every year and watch the race and I saw the wheelchair racers for the first time when I was four. I remember asking my mother what they were and immediately knew that I wanted to try it someday. From there I set my goal to do the Boilermaker and was able to complete it six years later when I was 10.
You have become a trailblazer for wheelchair athletes at the high school level, how has that journey been as such a young person accomplishing so much?
The journey has been great. It all started from me wanting to compete alongside my peers and has evolved into a way for me to be competitive while also spread awareness of our sport. I have been lucky to have the support system that I have at the school, at home, and with my competitors, teammates, and coaches. I would not be able to compete at the level that I do today if it weren't for all their help and would not be able to have the success that I have had without them. It also feels good to know that maybe someday, I will be a role model for younger racers like other racers are role models for me.
What was it like working with two-time TCS New York City Marathon champion Daniel Romanchuk when you went out to visit the wheelchair racing program at the University of Illinois?
Training with Daniel and the racers at the University of Illinois was great. I was fortunate enough to be able to train for a few weeks with the racers and coach Adam and I learned a lot. Also, when it comes to indoor training, it was very nice to push alongside other racers instead of just pushing on my roller at home by myself. A lot of the racers, including Daniel, have been role models for me in the sport for so long so to be able to train alongside them it was an honor. Daniel is a phenomenal wheelchair racer, as well as a person, so to be able to learn from him about the sport as well as just everyday scenarios, I am super grateful and thankful that I have had the opportunity.
You will be making your professional athlete debut at the United Airlines NYC Half, which will also be your first-ever half-marathon. How have you been mentally preparing for that?
I have been thinking and mentally preparing for it a lot. Since I have never raced at this distance before, the race will be a great experience to learn from and compete in. I have really focused on my training this off season so I can make sure I am pushing at the highest level that I am physically capable of. I have learned that for me, as a racer, I can't overthink things and just have to race my races. So when it comes to race day, I will do just that. I don't know what my race will entail, but if I did my best and raced my race, I will be complete.
What do you like to do outside of training?
Outside of training, I do a lot with the musical programs at our school. I am actually a lead in our upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast at our school and have been rehearsing for a few months for the show in March. I am also in my school’s jazz band, concert band, and marching band where I play my saxophone and piano. I am in my school’s show choir as well as our select choir. When I am not busy with these or training, I like to play video games with my brother and relax around the house.
What has the support been like in your school?
I have had tons of support from my school. My fourth-grade classmates were actually the ones who raised enough money for me to have my first racing wheelchair. From there, they have given me endless support. Whether it is my coaches and teammates on the track team or my teachers, they have all supported me through my journey. They were the ones who helped me to compete at the level I am today, and I am very thankful for all they do. I know that I wouldn't be who I am without the support of the school and the community.
What are you most looking forward to experiencing on race day?
Honestly, I think the thing I am most excited for is to race in New York City. I remember years back during the 5th Avenue Mile I was amazed to be able to push down 5th Avenue, so for the half marathon it will be pretty surreal. While I won't get to look around much while racing, just the experience of racing in New York City is pretty awesome. I am also excited to make my professional debut and hopefully do well.
You can cheer Robinson on along with all the other pro athletes by tuning in to watch the United Airlines NYC Half on March 15 on Channel 7 Eyewitness News starting at 6:00 a.m. ET or watching the Pro Race Livestream at 7:00 a.m. ET on the NYRR Facebook and YouTube channels.