Wheel Fast

Paralympians like Arizona State’s fast track

Paralympians like Arizona State’s fast track

In his first wheelchair track meet this season, U.S. Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk put on a blazing speed show.

During the May 31-June 1 weekend, he won all five events he competed in at the Desert Challenge Games at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., and in his final one, the men’s 17-and-over T54 400 meters on Saturday morning, he sped down the track so fast, it left fellow teammate and U.S. Paralympian Aaron Pike in awe.

“Insanity,” Pike said after Romanchuk crossed the finish line to win the men’s T54 400 in 44.87 seconds June 1. “So, that’s very, very fast. It’s very fast. Yeah, it’s definitely a national team standard. And yeah, that’ll put you on the team no matter what if you run that at trials.”

Aaron Pike during the 2024 Desert Challenge Games in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


That’s even faster than Romanchuk’s gold-medal winning time at the Tokyo Paralympics in Japan in 2021, when came from behind to win the men’s T54 400 meters in 45.72 seconds, edging out Thailand’s Athiwat Paeng-Nuea by .01 seconds.

The 26-year-old Romanchuk, who was born with spina bifida, won four other events – the men’s 17-and-over T54 100, 800, 1,500 and 5,000 – over the weekend.

Whether it was the hot 90- and 100-degree summer temperatures, the resurfaced track  – which racers said was already fast  – or some added adrenaline boosts, Romanchuk liked how he finished, with the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials just a month and a half away in Miramar, Fla., and the Summer Paralympics in Paris only three months away.

“I really didn’t know exactly what to expect coming here with the track being resurfaced, first place. It’s the first time that we’re back here. So, I really didn’t know exactly what to expect, but a lot of the tracks in the area are pretty fast,” Romanchuk said. “Yeah, everything’s been going pretty good. Happy with times and things. So, yeah, overall good meet.”

Romanchuk and Pike have already qualified for the Paris Paralympics. The top two American finishers in the November 2023 New York City Marathon men’s and women’s wheelchair divisions each earned qualifying spots for the Aug. 28-Sept 8 Paris Paralympics.

Daniel Romanchuk during the 2024 Desert Challenge Games in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


Romanchuk showed his training is working already at Desert Challenge.

Besides the 400, he took the 100 in 14.59 seconds – defeating Ghana’s Raphael Botsyo Nkegbe (14.95 seconds) and the U.S.’ Valera Jacob Allen (15.76 seconds), the 800 in 1 minute, 28.64 seconds, finishing well ahead of Canada’s Josh Cassidy (1:37.12) and Allen (1:44.31), the 1,500 in 2:54.65, beating out Pike (2:55.88) and Cassidy (2:56.55), and the 5,000 in 9:39.54, ahead of Pike (10:40.13) and the U.S.’ Dustin Stallberg (11:13.78).

It also marked the second time in a couple weeks that T54 racers have had their times make the news.

Just two weeks ago, China’s Hu Yang, 27, won the men’s T54 400, setting a championship record of 44.98 seconds at the Kobe 2024 Para Athletics World Championships at the Universiade Memorial Stadium in Kobe, Japan.

As for the official World Para Athletics T54 men’s 400 world record, Tunisia’s Yassine Gharbi holds that with a 43.46-second time set in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, in March 2018.

This year, marked the first time the Desert Challenge Games were back at Arizona State University since 2019. It seemed to be a hit.

Other Paralympians, such as Brian Siemann and Pike, noticed the Arizona State University track ran fast, too.

Siemann won the men’s T53 17-and-over 100, 400 and 1,500. He took the 100 in 15.30 seconds – just ahead of the U.S.’ Aidan Gravelle (15.93 seconds) and Wyatt Willand (16.77 seconds). He won the 400 in 49.02 seconds, ahead of Gravelle (54.22 seconds) and Willand (56.57 seconds), and he took the 1,500 in a personal-best 2:56.14 over Gravelle (3:15.32) and Willand (3:24.48).

The 34-year-old Siemann, who was paralyzed from the waist down at birth after a hospital accident, thinks the Arizona weather is phenomenal and has competed at the Desert Challenge Games more than a handful of times before – even back in high school. He says the sun bakes the track, making it nice and hard, which is ideal for wheelchair racers. And the personal-best is a nice bonus and gets his season started off well.

“It puts me in a really good place. I think it makes me feel more confident. I race against some of my competition here. There’s a couple other U.S. guys, as well, but I feel pretty good sort of where I’m at, and so that’s exciting,” Siemann says. “And then even just putting it into the bigger picture of the international stage and my international competition, I’m pretty happy right now.”

Pike agreed – his times were up from his usual, as well.

“The track is fast. OK, yeah, that’s one thing we’re noticing is we’re all running fast. Like, Brian was able to also run his personal best in the 1,500, OK, and he wasn’t even completely dead at the end of the race,” Pike says. “This track is definitely rolling. Well, that was my fastest, 1,500, like in a couple years, as well.”

For full 2024 Desert Challenge Games results, visit www.arizonadisabledsports.com/results.

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