COLUMBUS – The minute Bradley Landon entered the world, the odds were stacked against him.
The Mount Gilead senior was born with amniotic band syndrome, which meant his umbilical cord had wrapped around his foot while he was in the womb. Only one in every 1,200 newborns suffer from the condition, and it can be crippling. It caused Landon’s right foot to grow smaller than his left, and doctors suggested he refrain from walking until the age of 13.
Yet here he sat, atop the podium on Friday at the OHSAA Track and Field Championships, a state medal around his neck and a smile on his face. He had just snapped the state meet record for seated shot put, recording a throw of 25 feet, three inches. It was his final athletic feat in a high school career that included four years of varsity football, basketball and golf.
His whole life, Landon has outperformed expectations. It was only fitting his amateur career ended in such a fashion.
“It’s really satisfying,” Landon told Knox Pages afterwards. “And I expected to win, so I would have been really disappointed if I didn’t. But it feels good.”
It was with the same mentality – one of a champion – that Landon broke barriers commonly associated with amniotic band syndrome. When doctors told Landon’s family he would not be able to walk until the age of 13, thus stunting his growth, his family sought alternative options. They ultimately took Landon to a hospital in Kentucky, where his foot was amputated at the age of six.
On Friday, as Landon sat atop the state podium and thousands applauded his feat, he dangled his legs over the edge. His right leg has a knee-down prosthetic, although it’s hardly noticeable from a distance. He’s used the prosthetic to walk, run and compete at a high level athletically his entire childhood. While he acknowledged his technical disability, Landon said he never thought of himself as any different than his peers.
“I love it,” he said of athletic competition. “I don’t know… I didn’t really look at it as a big difference. Because seated [shot put] is for people with disabilities, I guess none of the other sports I played – I played varsity football, varsity basketball and varsity golf… I’m just used to competing, it doesn’t make much of a difference.”
This was Landon’s first year participating in track and field, Mount Gilead throws coach Brandon Strain said. He’d practiced for two weeks this spring before Strain proposed to Landon and head coach Lauren Huelsman that he try seated shot put.
“I said, ‘I think you can win a state title,’” Strain recalled telling Landon.
“He goes, ‘I’m in.’”
The Mount Gilead coaching staff worked with a welder to have Landon’s custom competition chair built. The senior quickly realized his potential in the event. He set his eyes on not only a state title, but also the state record.
Landon was consistently throwing 23-24 feet during practices leading up to the state meet, he said. He knew he needed another foot to break the record, and this would be his only chance to do it.
“In my head, I just thought, ‘Breathe and throw high. Throw a little bit higher and a little bit further,’” Landon said.
He proceeded to have his best performance of the year.
“He just let it unleash,” Strain said. “[He] reared back in the chair and I told him he was going to have to push it far and fast, and that’s what he did. He went back and he unleashed his [throws] and it was competitive all day for him. So just good, consistent numbers.”
Landon’s top throw went two feet farther than the meet’s second-best. He found out 20 minutes later that he had broken the state record, and he was ecstatic.
So were Landon’s teammates, who had gathered to watch him compete. While Mount Gilead’s team boasted top-to-bottom talent this year, including some of the state’s top distance runners and hurdlers, Strain said Landon’s efforts have been valued since day one.
“Everyone’s supported him,” Strain said. “We threw him out at four or five events with the chair – he did throw discus this year, so it’s not like he didn’t do it all in the chair. But when we did the chair, the team rallied around him, came and watched him and supported him, and today he had quite a few people here to support him. So he’s a [tried] and true member of the team.”
Landon ended his high school career with a bang – he was named all-KMAC in golf before ending the year a state champion – and he said he wants to ride that momentum forward. He’d like to see if he can participate in the Paralympics while attending school to study business.
Regardless of what the future holds, Strain said Friday he was proud of the Landon's hard work and determination. After dedicating his last four years to Mount Gilead athletics, and defying the odds in the process, Strain said Landon deserved the storybook ending he experienced at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on Friday.
“That’s why I wanted him out for this. I wanted him to have a chance to win a state title, just because of the grit and grind that he put into golf and football and basketball, and now track and field,” Strain said. “He didn’t slack and he didn’t let any of those disabilities hold him back.”
Mount Gilead sophomore Allison Johnson claims gold in 800
While Landon was Mount Gilead’s first state champion last weekend, he wouldn’t be the school's last.
Sophomore Allison Johnson, who qualified for state in the 300-meter hurdles as a freshman, won the 800-meter run with a time of 2:10.53. Johnson finished two seconds ahead of Minster’s Madeline Magoto, and as she crossed the finish line, she began to tear up in disbelief.
“I could not be more happy with how this year went,” said Johnson, who won four KMAC titles and a bevy of postseason trophies as well.
While Johnson qualified for the state meet in four events, she chose to forgo pole vault and the 400-meter dash to save her energy for the 100-meter hurdles and 800. Had she competed in all four events, she would have had only 20 minutes between the 400 and 800 meter finals on Saturday – and given the 80-plus degree temperatures that tested athletes’ limits last weekend in Columbus, the Mount Gilead coaching staff felt it would best if she picked her spots.
“We wanted to see what I could do on fresh legs,” the multi-talented Johnson said. “I was able to kind of recuperate after the 400, but 15 minutes is not… like, I just wanted to be able to be there and give it my all.”
The strategy certainly paid off. She finished second in the 100-meter hurdles – just .38 seconds behind Grove City Christian’s Calista Manns – and then had one of her finest races to-date in the 800-meter.
“I felt great. It was the best I’ve ever felt in the 800,” she said. “I had the crowd there and the girls with me, and I don’t know, I was supposed to go out with the lead pack and that probably would have been smarter, but I just got caught up in the excitement and it ended up playing well for me. I felt great when I was supposed to take off around the 300, 200, and it was good.”
Johnson said she recorded the best splits of her career on Saturday. She credited her coaches and teammates for her near-perfect state performance.
“I’m so proud. I mean, we have great coaches and I did not get here alone,” Johnson said. “It was the work of our coaches and our teammates encouraging me and being happy for me to be there.
"We also had another guy, Brad Landon, get first in seated shot, so I’m not the only one that’s been here. And our guys relays, and we have two other girls that came – like I said, I haven’t been alone. It’s been a good time to be able to be pushed, and the motivation from my coaches and everything.”
Johnson said winning state became a realistic goal after she won the Shelby Invite in April with a time of 2:16, beating a girl she’d originally lost to in the indoor 800-meter state championships. Then she won districts with a time of 2:12, and all she could think about was the opportunity to prove herself in Columbus.
“I just really wanted this,” Johnson said.
Despite finishing second in the 100-meter hurdles, Johnson said she wasn’t disappointed. She exceeded her own expectations in the event, and came closer than she did last year at state, when she finished fourth in the 300-meter hurdles.
“I got closer than I thought I would in the 100 hurdles – like, Calista Manns is a great runner, and I was closer than I thought I’d be. So I’m happy with that, too,” Johnson said. “Finishing second was better than I thought I would do.”
Just a sophomore, Johnson told reporters Saturday about how she might pick up discus throw next year. Initially thought to be a joke, because she already dominates four events, she clarified that she was serious.
Eventually, Johnson said she wants to run in college. She’s heading to North Carolina soon for nationals, and she’ll surely gain widespread exposure heading into her junior year.
For now, though, Johnson is focused on bringing more hardware home to Mount Gilead. On Saturday, tears still in her eyes, the sophomore was already dreaming of the future.
“I don’t want to stop the trend here. I’d love to go next year and maybe [win] a cross country final, and see what track brings me,” Johnson said, “in whatever events I do next year.”
Landon and Johnson claimed two state titles for the KMAC last weekend in Columbus. Many other athletes went toe-to-toe with the state’s best in their respective events. Here’s how they finished:
- The girls 4x800-meter relay team of Aeryn Walters, Elise Tucker, Abigail Dickof and Avery Tucker finished 15th with a time of 10:00.
- The boys 4x800-meter relay team of Paden Spencer, Thomas Caputo, Dakota Smith and Connor Riley placed seventh with a time of 8:08.
- Paden Spencer finished 12th in the mile with a time of 4:32.
- Steven Tumbleson placed 14th in pole vault with a mark of 13 feet.
- The boys 4x100-meter relay team of Brock Veley, Chase Carpenter, Landyn Albanese and Jack Weaver finished sixth with a time of 43.06 seconds.
- Veley placed seventh in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.20 seconds.
- Weaver finished ninth in the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.84 seconds.
- The boys 4x400-meter relay team of Liam Dennis, Nathan Weaver, Connor Page and Brandon Stevens placed second with a time of 3:23.36, 1.03 seconds away from first-place Liberty Center.
- Page finished second in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 15.21 seconds, one-tenth of a second behind the victor.
- Dennis placed fifth in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:55.72.
- Stevens finished seventh in the 400-meter dash with a time of 50.27 seconds.
- Micah Tuggle placed eighth in shot put with a throw of 52 feet, five inches.
- Ethan Supplee placed ninth in the two-mile with a time of 9:54.
- Casey White finished 14th in the mile with a time of 4:33.
- Kyle White placed 16th in pole vault with a mark of 12 feet.
- The boys 4x100-meter relay team of Drew Zoll, Aaron Berg, Adam Petulla and P.J. Lower finished eighth with a time of 44.19 seconds.
- Tony Martinez placed 11th in pole vault with a mark of 13 feet, six inches.