Born with arthrogryposis, stiffness in his joints that limit the range of motion in both of his arms, Rayven Sample ’24 has dedicated nearly a decade of his life to being an athlete.
After years of training, Sample had the opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage.
Two weeks ago, he competed in the 400-meter dash, T47 classification, at the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo. Sample set a personal best of 50.01 in the preliminary round, seeding him in fourth place leading into finals.
His success has not come easy.
Beginning his career in middle school, Sample said he never took track seriously until high school and certainly never considered the Paralympics as an option.
“I kind of fell in love with it. And for me, it was an outlet for me to come to terms with my disability and accept myself because through track and field, I gained a lot of self-love and self-appreciation from my accomplishments,” Sample said.
Finishing high school as a New York state champion in the 4×400 meter relay, it was at the state meet that the New York mile split representative recommended him for para.
The passing of his grandmother, who adopted him after his father’s death, shook the athlete right before he left for his first year at the University.
“It was the week of my high school graduation, she got sick, she was coughing up blood. She went to the doctor and they found stage four lung cancer. Then within basically two months, it progressed so much that she had passed,” Sample said.
Sample needed to move to Lewisburg within hours of his grandmother’s passing, or risk a considerable delay to his training, due to COVID. He knew that his grandmother would want him to go, and keeping his promise to her to compete at the Paralympics relied on him getting to the University.
He decided to take the risk and was on a bus within hours of her passing.
Once on campus, Sample realized that a lot of his training in high school would transfer over well. Strength training in the weight room proved to be one major obstacle for him.
“In high school, I hadn’t really ventured into there to do any strength training,” Sample said.
He attributes his conquering of the weight room to University strength coach Lysette “RC” Rivera-Cortes, who has adapted her programming to suit Sample.
“Rayven is very hardworking and willing to try new things to progress his strength training,” Coach Rivera-Cortes said. “He always asks questions to better understand the ‘why’ and is always very receptive to feedback. Even after competing in Tokyo, he’s already asking when he can get back in the weight room.”
Leading up to the prelims, Sample was focused on maintaining a strong pace through the finish line. That was his biggest weakness in the past season, he said.
“I just kept telling myself before, ‘you’re not running a 400; in these two races, you’re running a 410 run through the line as much as you can, so you can get that good time,” Sample said.
Although he hoped to break the 50-second barrier in finals, somewhere during the rain-soaked race, he was disqualified from competition for stepping in someone else’s lane.
“At about 200 meters, I kind of remember blacking out and not remembering anything from 200 to 250,” Sample said. “I remember stepping a little bit too far to the left at that moment.”
Sample said that U.S. Paralympic sprints coach, Kris Mack, was prepared to dispute the disqualification, but after viewing the video, it was a clear violation. His right leg had been in the left lane.
Despite this setback, the Falconer, N.Y. native seemed optimistic for his future career in the sport. He hopes to compete for Team USA again in Kobe, Japan, at the Para Athletic World Championships in 2022.
“I loved the experience,” Sample said. “I wish I’d done a little bit better, but I certainly have something to work for, looking forward to the 2024 games in Paris.”