Making The Worlds Team Was A Dream Come True For Sayers Grooms
by Ken Stone
If colleges recruited frame runners like quarterbacks, Sayers Grooms would be a No. 1 national prospect and have coaches camped outside her home in Gainesville, Florida.
A prep phenom in the three-wheeled Para track event, Grooms, 17, is set to be a senior at the private Oak Hall School. She also skis and recently earned her third-degree black belt in taekwondo.
“I also love reading for pleasure, working on puzzles and studying ancient Roman culture and the Latin language,” she said. “In my free time, I like to watch CrossFit competitions and hope to get into adaptive CrossFit training someday.”
More important, she’s a leading advocate for her sport. Grooms has ataxic cerebral palsy, which limits her balance, coordination and speed.
In mid-July, she’ll test her quickness with the best 100-meter frame runners at the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris.
Her selection to the 45-member U.S. team wasn’t a given. The sport, which was previously called RaceRunning, is being included in the world championships for the second time, but no American frame runners were selected for the debut in 2019. She and Michael Anwar will be the first.
“I was not sure if the USA was ready to include frame running at that level and I was really surprised to make the cut, especially given how much talent showed up at nationals this year,” Grooms said. “Making the team is truly a dream come true for me.”
Grooms was first in the mixed-gender 100-meter race at nationals last month, winning in 18.46 seconds — a domestic PR.
“My international PR was sub-18 last summer,” she said. “but it didn’t count because there was a wind-assist that day.”
As a toddler, Grooms used a walker. She ditched that aid and walked unsteadily without support starting at age 4 but was never able to run. Nonetheless, she loved sports and wanted to be an athlete like her older sister, so Grooms played “kiddie soccer,” took part in fun runs and tried lacrosse.
Still, she was frustrated at not keeping up with friends. So her parents searched extensively online for different options and found frame running. They ordered her a running frame from Denmark in 2013, shortly after Grooms turned 8.
“On the running frame, I immediately loved the feeling and freedom of running and I felt like I was flying,” she said.
The original plan was to use the frame for fun and fitness. She worked with her family to start a frame running club in her town.
In early 2014, Groom’s grandfather — who loved visiting Denmark since his own father was an immigrant from Copenhagen — found out about an annual international frame running training camp and competition in Copenhagen and encouraged her to attend.
“That was my first opportunity to train and race with lots of other frame running athletes, and I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I felt like I had finally found my people.”
That summer, she set junior world records in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 in Copenhagen. Grooms has attended the camp and competition in Denmark every year since, with the exception of 2020.
She dismisses the legend that she was the first American frame runner.
“There were a handful involved before I started in 2013, but I may have been one of the first Americans to get really serious about it,” she said.
Grooms thinks she was the first American to set world records in frame running, including senior women’s world records, as well as being the first American to compete in frame running at a Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) World Games in 2018.
Four years later, in 2022, she and Anwar became the first Americans to compete in frame running at an International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games.
“Back in 2019, when they first included frame running at worlds, I had one of the top senior women’s times at the time and would have loved to compete at worlds but the USA was not ready to include frame running yet and I was only 14,” she said.
Teammate Anwar, 27, said Grooms is “awesome” and that he looks up to her even though she’s 10 years younger.
“I am so thankful I can be on the same team as her and learn from her,” Anwar said.
Another frame runner at nationals was Jody Putman. He met Grooms for the first time in May.
“During that week, our families spent time together because of our connected interest in frame running,” Putman said. “We set up camp together at the meet and went out to eat as a group a few times.”
Putnam’s parents are part of a group of track and field leaders promoting frame running for competition, recreation and rehabilitation.
“Sayers’ mom and my dad are a part of that group,” he said. “They meet on a conference call the first of each month.”
In fact, Grooms founded a nonprofit called Watch Me Run to help spread the word and pay for the pricey frames. She’s currently deciding where to attend college, with the hope of one day becoming a teacher or working in the nonprofit sector full time.
“My biggest goal is to find a career that allows me to help and serve others,” she said.
Up until last summer, Grooms held three senior women’s world records in the 100, 200 and 400.
“But the women’s field has really exploded with talent and speed in the past couple of years, so I will have my work cut out for me moving forward,” Grooms said. “It’s very exciting.”
Training four or five times a week under Daniel Medley, aka “Coach Miami,” Grooms does track work and strength training in the gym.
“Before this past year, I used to train to compete in all distances between 100 and 1,500 ... but we have recently been focusing my training on the 100, since that is the event that the (World Para Athletics) has decided to showcase,” she said.
Thanks to her sport, her cardiovascular fitness level improved dramatically and she “feels like a real athlete.”
“Before frame running, it took me over 16 minutes to cover a mile on foot,” she said. “My original goal was to break 10 minutes on the frame, but that gradually dropped to eight and then seven and now I can pretty easily run a mile in 6:30 or less.”
Regardless of what happens at the world championships, Grooms is embracing what will be the biggest moment of her athletic career thus far.
“The women’s competition in Paris is going to be intense,” she said. “I will be so excited to pull up to the starting line and see what happens. I know we all really want to do well, and if I am fortunate enough to medal, I will cherish it and the memory forever.”
Ken Stone has covered track since the early 1970s, including for Track & Field News, and won TAFWA’s inaugural award for excellence in blogging in 2009. He is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandField.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial.