SAN DIEGO — Michelle Cross just finished her freshman year at San Diego State University, where she experienced a lot of new things while running track. Among them: becoming an advocate for a first-of-its-kind program in California.
Nineteen-year-old Cross hasn’t let much get in the way of accomplishing her goals on the track. “You are your own person, your own mind,” Cross said. “You can’t listen to that exterior noise that tells you that you can’t do it.”
The sophomore lives with cerebral palsy and proudly represents SDSU as the first adaptive track and field athlete.
“I was a little overwhelmed at first — but honestly, I’ve competed with able-bodied or regular athletes in high school, so it was still about the same. At first I was a little bit scared, but I did fine and I love it,” Cross said.
Chula Vista High School graduate and former Paralympian Ahkeel Whitehead launched the adaptive athletics program at SDSU earlier this year, making it the first collegiate program of its kind in the state.
“Seeing her just gain confidence over time was probably the most satisfying thing as a coach because Michelle and I, we share the same disability,” Whitehead said. “There’s a lot of people that are starting to be more aware that these athletes exist, that these sports exist and that we’re here to represent Team USA.”
Cross will get the chance to do just that next month in Switzerland. The Orange County native was among just 20 adaptive athletes who qualified for the track and field World Junior Championship team. In Switzerland, she plans to compete in the 100- and 200-yard dash.
“I love the atmosphere and the expectations,” Cross said. “Seeing that there are people that are just like you and that you can compete against anybody.”
“We should just tell people to work hard, especially if you’re an adaptive athlete, because there’s opportunities now for athletes like us. I’m very proud of her in that sense,” Whitehead said. “I look forward to not only where she takes this on the track, but who else she tells to be like, hey — you should be part of this thing,” Whitehead said.
Cross is looking forward to the opportunities she sees for the years ahead to bring more awareness to adaptive athletics at SDSU and abroad. “I feel very honored to do it, especially because it’s obviously new and I love how people get to come out and express themselves,” she said.
For more information on SDSU’s Adaptive Athletics program, click here.