Many kids can’t stand running the track in PE.
Then there’s Gybby Guerra of Lakeside High School in Lake Elsinore, who can’t wait to race around the track.
Said his mom Hengly: “When other kids are like, ‘I don’t want to run,’ Gybby is like, ‘Yes.’”
And it’s not just for idle pleasure.
Gybby Guerra, right, competes on the track team at Lakeside High School in Lake Elsinore. (Courtesy of Hengly Guerra)
Gybby Guerra, third from left, competes for the Lakeside High School track and field team. (Courtesy of Hengly Guerra)
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He’s on the school track team and last spring competed in the state finals in the shot put, 100-meter and 200-meter races, earning his team vital points.
It all sounds very impressive.
Just one more detail: He’s doing all the events in his wheelchair because he was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.
Of her son’s accomplishments, his proud mom noted: “When people set a limit, he just moves it.”
Gybby added: “I was shocked I was able to join. It was kind of crazy.”
Gybby did track events in the Special Olympics for nine years. He met noted Paralympics athlete Michelle Wheeler, who encouraged him to try out for his high school team. He started as a 10th grader and it didn’t take him long to acclimate himself.
“As soon as I got on the track and it started, I just went for it,” Gybby said. “I just felt so alive. It’s amazing to be out there with everybody. It makes me feel like I belong with everybody.”
Former Lakeside athletic director David Drake, now a middle school teacher, said that when Gybby did his events, athletes from both teams gathered to cheer him on.
“The kids are really receptive,” he said. “It’s a unique experience for everybody.”
Drake said Gybby is also sending a powerful message to other athletes.
“If Gybby can do it, there is nothing anybody can’t do … The kids just love him. He’s such a great kid.”
His accomplishments were recognized at a recent Lake Elsinore Unified School District board meeting. Gybby has attended Lake Elsinore schools since he was 3.
His mom says her son’s teachers and coaches have all helped him pursue his dreams. They cited his aide Luis Carranza, teacher Robert Hensley and track coach Andrew Penwarden for their support.
“We’ve been so incredibly blessed with people who have fought for him.”
Track and field isn’t the only thing in which Gybby, 17, stars.
He’s been an actor for seven years and had a recurring role on the “Sons of Anarchy” TV show as the son of the character played by actor Jimmy Smits. It started when Gybby was approached by the show’s production company show to be on the program. He’s also appeared in two TV commercials and the show “Speechless.”
Gybby is entering his last year of high school and plans to go to college after that. He’d like to continue competing in sports, but no schools in California offer programs for para athletes. Universities in Illinois and Arizona offer track and field programs. Of course, he could always try to create such an opportunity at a California school and, given his go-for-it nature, anything’s possible.
Gybby hopes to eventually become a psychologist and help special-needs kids and their families cope with their situations. He said he’s worked with many people who can help him clinically, but he’s never met a special-needs psychologist who could relate to what he goes through in every aspect of his day-to-day existence.
“It’s one thing to know what’s going on, it’s another thing to live that life experience,” he said.
Given how well Gybby’s succeeding with his own challenges, he’ll have plenty to share.
Reach Carl Love at firstname.lastname@example.org