Hoyt native goes from wheelchair-bound to winning gold

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HOYT, Kan. (WIBW) -- Hoyt native Dustin Gunter has already achieved a lot in his track and field career. He's been to some of the biggest track meets for disabled athletes in North America, and competed against some of the country's best for gold medals.

But he has one achievement that's always at the forefront of his mind: becoming a member of the U.S. Paralympic team.

"That's my biggest dream, to be on Team USA," Gunter said. "That's why this year I wanted to go to a Grand Prix because I love competition."

Gunter recently competed in the 2018 Grand Prix Desert Challenge Games in Arizona, taking home the gold in long jump, the 400-meter dash and the 800-meter dash. The meet featured 454 athletes from 18 different countries.

"I have to say probably the biggest thing that has led to his successes is work ethic," said Russell Hodison, Gunter's coach. "It's second to none."

But Gunter's quest to join Team USA isn't the biggest challenge he has ever faced.

When Gunter was 8 years old, he was in an ATV accident. The handlebars of the dirt bike he collided with went through his helmet, his skull and came to a stop lodged inside his brain.

"I don't remember (it)," Gunter said. "My parents said I passed away and came back to life like four or five times.

"When I woke up, I was like a newborn baby. I didn't know how to speak or how to walk. It (took) maybe 3 or 4 years to walk again. And then track came up to my head, and I just ran as much as I could."

Gunter competes in the T35 category which, according to the International Paralympic Committee, means he has one or more coordination impairments. In Gunter's case, he also has difficulty with understanding and expressing speech.

"His attitude has led to his success also," Hodison said. "First thing he does when he comes to the track, he'll say 'It's a great day to practice.' It could be rainy or 95 degrees, and it doesn't matter to him. He's just glad to have another day, another opportunity to try to improve."

Gunter has more than improved this last season. On top of taking first in the three aforementioned events, he also placed third in the 200-meter dash and fourth in the 100-meter dash--races in which he ran against athletes from the U.S. Paralympic team.

"He came in 5 or 6 tenths in the 100 meters behind (one of the U.S. athletes)," Hodison said. "He has some problems still with his balance which affects his starts. If he can improve those starts, he can make that time up I believe."

"I was really nervous but you have to think of what you worked on," Gunter said. "All you have to do is believe in yourself. I never believe I can look down and never give up so I just push myself nonstop."

Gunter learned in Arizona that within his disability classification, the U.S. Paralympic team can only take athletes in the shotput, the 100 and the 200.

"Now, I have a target to look at"

Until then, Gunter will continue to wake up every morning to a 2-mile run, then head to work before weightlifting and workouts. Sometimes after his workouts, he even runs more.

"If nobody is ahead of me in my race, it doesn't push me," Gunter said. "I just always believe in myself."

Gunter also competed this year in the Derby Challenge, the Gateway Games and the Endeavor Games, and hopes he can soon find a college with a para track team.