Indiana State University alumnus Ayden Jent recently represented Team USA in the 2016 Paralympics — capturing a fifth place finish in the 200-meter sprint during his inaugural games.
Jent, who has cerebral palsy, began running in 2007 with his stepfather — first along the canal in Indianapolis and eventually in 5Ks and half-marathons.
“Running frees me from my disability,” Jent said. “I also love to be active and get my heart pumping, while trying to live a healthy life.”
When Jent arrived at Indiana State in 2011, he became a student manager and worked with the track and field team for four years. Jent was there every day before and after practice to take times, wash laundry, organize paperwork and set out hurdles, among other duties.
Between tasks and traveling with the team, Jent was able to build friendships with the athletes.
“Watching my teammates compete every weekend got me hooked on track and field. I got to watch some of the best athletes in the country compete on a daily basis,” he said. “I saw their work ethic and how they carried themselves through practice and hardships.”
Mike Chambers, professor of political science at State, worked closely with Jent when he was a student.
“Ayden’s success at Rio goes to show that if you set your mind to a task and set a goal for yourself, you can succeed — even when there are barriers in your way — if you work hard to achieve your goals,” Chambers said. “Ayden has achieved some amazing successes by working hard and pursuing goals in an area that he loves.”
While managing the track and field teams, Jent also spent time in the Student Recreation Center running sprints on the indoor track. In 2015, Jent saw a video of Michael McKillop, a distance runner competing for Ireland, who has cerebral palsy, yet competed in the world championships. Jent was so inspired by McKillop that he then contacted Cathy Sellers, high performance director of U.S. Paralympics Track and Field.
They met in St. Paul, Minn., at the National Championships, where Jent received a t35 classification designation for athletes who are typically affected in all four limbs but more so in the legs than the arms, have a running gait that is moderately to severely impacted, and a stride length that is typically shortened.
Once a distance runner, Jent found himself with a new challenge. “Because of my classification I now had to do sprints. As of that moment I was not longer a distance runner,” he said.
Before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Jent took part in the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, where he received a silver medal. He also earned a spot on the World Championship team that traveled to Doha Qatar.
The travel and competition were exciting, but it was being selected as a member of the Olympian and Paralympian delegation that visited the White House after the games that truly hyped up the former political science major. As a student, he attended the 2012 Democratic National Convention and interned for the Indiana House of Representatives.
“I had rehearsed what I was going to say the night before. I didn’t want to say something everyone else might say,” said Jent, who worked on several campaigns during the 2016 elections and hopes to one day run for political office. “I shook hands with the President Obama and told him, “‘I will be running for office in 24 years.’ He said he was ‘keeping the seat warm for me.’ I then said I am a ‘Democrat from Indianapolis.’ He gave me a hug.”
From his family and coaches to President Obama, Jent finds his inspiration everywhere.
“To hear what adversity my friend or someone I read about has overcome. Inspiration can come from anywhere, a song, book, movie, text and photo,” Jent said.
But patience is the key to the journey, he says.
“Nothing in life comes easy. You have to work for your dreams and it takes time,” he said. “It has taken me two years to get to this point in the Paralympics, but I have spent my whole life trying to overcome my disability through the use of casts, braces and, on two occasions, Botox injections. Through hard work and perseverance, I can call myself a U.S. Paralympian.”
In January, Jent plans travel to Chula Vista, Calif., for six months to train for the IPC World Championships in London in July 2017.