Jaydin Blackwell Is Ready For The Spotlight
by Steve Drumwright
When Jaydin Blackwell stepped to the starting line for the 100- and 400-meter T38 finals at the recent 2023 World Para Athletics Championships, his list of accomplishments paled in comparison with those he was about to run against.
There were reigning world champions, Paralympic gold medalists, a world-record holder and an Asian Games winner.
But by the time the 19-year-old from Oak Park, Michigan, crossed the finish line for the second time in Paris, everyone knew who he was. That is because he had a breakthrough performance at worlds, winning gold medals in both races, accounting for two of the 10 golds Team USA came home with.
“When I'm going against people, I don't see them as a challenge, I just see them as a runner like me,” Blackwell said of his elite competitors. “There's no point to comparing someone as a threat or a challenge. They're all just runners there trying to get better, just like me.”
Not only was the field comprised of the world’s best runners, but Blackwell performed this well on the second-biggest stage in the sport in his first international meet.
“I was thinking that it’s just another meet,” Blackwell said. “All I have to do is go out there and just give it my best effort.”
Blackwell won his first gold in the 100, using a strong second half of the race to finish in 10.92 seconds, just ahead of China’s Zhu Dening (11.00) and American Nick Mayhugh (11.14). Blackwell overtook Dening in the final 25 meters.
This came a day after he set the world championships record in the semifinals with a time of 10.87, slightly off the world record of 10.74, which was set by China’s Hu Jianwen at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Australia’s Evan O’Hanlon held the previous world championships mark of 10.93, set in 2013.
“For the start of the final, it really wasn't (an ideal race), but I didn't panic,” said Blackwell, noting a poor reaction to the start. “I still got my groove back together in like the middle of the race and got the win.”
Three days later, Blackwell was back for more. After setting an Americas record of 49.61 in winning his semifinal heat of the 400, Blackwell blasted out of the start during the final and was never threatened en route to setting a world record of 48.49. He took the lead by the second turn, never looked back and broke the record of 49.33 set by Tunisia’s Mohamed Farhat Chida at the 2011 worlds. Chida, now 40 years old, finished seventh against Blackwell.
“It's how I've been going my whole life,” Blackwell said of his aggressive start. “Just get out real hard like I'm running the 100 on that first turn, then cruise not too much and consistently keeping that speed and edge until the straightaway.”
It all resulted in two gold medals; not bad for a guy who missed his senior year of high school track due to surgery on his right knee to repair the ACL and meniscus.
Barring any setbacks, he will certainly be the favorite in the 100 and 400 at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
Is he ready to embrace that pressure?
“Yes,” Blackwell said confidently.
Blackwell was diagnosed with cerebral palsy about 10 years ago, his mother, Rochelle Davis, told the Detroit News. This after he was born prematurely at 26 weeks weighing just 1 pound, 9 ounces. So while the odds have been stacked against him, Blackwell has persevered.
His accomplishments in Paris also have Blackwell dreaming. While his favorite event, the 200, isn’t available in the T38 class at the moment, he has envisioned Paralympic and Olympic athletes competing alongside each other. He has multiple posts on his Twitter account (@JaydinBlackwell) wanting to see that.
“Because we know how to put on a show just like the others,” Blackwell said of why that level of equality is important to him.
He had many well-wishers following his victories. Text messages and calls poured in from family as well as coaches and friends. Blackwell will have plenty of stories to tell, not just of how he won his two gold medals, but how a young man from a northern suburb of Detroit got to enjoy an extended week in Paris.
“Just my walking around seeing what they have, like the restaurants I wanted to go to,” Blackwell said of the tourist side of his trip. “We went to go see the Eiffel Tower and everything. Just the water and the bridges and everything. ... I'm going to tell them what I saw, that was a neat experience. They have some stuff that is a little bit different, some stuff that's way different from what America has.”
His favorite trinkets, though, will be the two gold medals hanging around his neck.
“I mean, it was really surprising,” Blackwell said. “I knew I had the abilities to get a medal, get on the podium. I just wasn’t expecting to get two.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandfield.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.