Samantha Heyison Shows Graciousness In Victory At IWAS World Games
by Lela Moore
Samantha Heyison and Poland's Faustyna Kotlowska pose with their medals at the IWAS Games.
Samantha Heyison knew she had earned a medal in the discus at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games last month in Santo Antonio, Portugal. She just was not sure what color her 35.81-meter throw would earn her.
Heyison was certain that it was not gold, because Faustyna Kotlowska of Poland had set a world record in the F64 class with a throw of 39.26 meters, beating American Jessie Heim’s old record of 37.28. Heyison, born with constriction band syndrome, competes in the F44 class, but at the World Games, their classes were grouped together.
Because of the points system by which her event is scored, the gold was given to Heyison, not Kotlowska. Heyison informed meet officials and the Polish federation that she intended to give her medal to Kotlowska.
“You could tell by their expressions they were moved and thankful by the incredible act of grace displayed by Samantha,” said Heyison’s father Marc, who traveled with his daughter to Portugal.
After an official medal ceremony, Heyison removed the gold from her neck and placed it around Kotlowska’s.
“Setting a world record, I don’t think, is something that should be remembered with a silver medal,” Heyison said.
She is now the proud owner of that silver medal.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the behavior of my rival,” Kotlowska wrote in an Instagram post on Nov. 28.
“It is the best reminder for all of us that these are caring people first and athletes and competitors second,” Marc Heyison wrote in a Facebook post.
Make no mistake, Samantha Heyison is a fierce competitor. In addition to winning gold — and giving it away — in the discus at the World Games, she also won a gold medal in the shot put.
Earlier this month, Adamstown, Maryland, native was one of the four who were named U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High School Athletes of the Year. It was the second year in a row Heyison received that honor. She is ranked first in the world in her classification in shot put and second in discus. It has been a quick rise for the Urbana High School senior.
“Half the people she competes against could be her mother,” Marc Heyison said.
Heyison and her parents traveled to Arizona in 2021 on three days’ notice to secure Samantha’s international classification. She described the judges there as “stone-faced” and said she was not sure they would classify her at all, meaning that she would be unable to compete at that level. They told her that it had never been a question of whether she could compete, just in which class, because she was eligible in two different classes. She laughed describing the experience.
After graduating from high school this spring, Heyison plans to compete in the NCAA and hopes to cash in on her name, image and likeness as she trains and competes with an eye on the 2023 world championships in Budapest and the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
Her time management skills are “getting better,” Heyison said, as she balances school with elite training. She said that she tries to complete her homework during the school day, in free periods and with any extra time her teachers allow for studying.
“So then when I’m done practicing after school and training and I come home, there isn’t much to do,” she said.
Marc Heyison was a minor league baseball player in the Baltimore Orioles system. He said that he and Samantha’s mother, Tanya, a former college volleyball player, both try to instill in Samantha the importance of a good mental game at her level.
“That’s always the distinction between the good and the great,” he said. “Being able to deal with the adversity.”
Heyison had a positive experience traveling to Portugal and competing in her first international meet at the World Games. The U.S. contingent traveled to Portugal through Move United. She said that the track and field team bonded through conversation and pickup soccer games during their stay. She also enjoyed meeting her international competitors. This was the first of what the Heyison family hopes is many international competitions they’ll experience.
“Every day going forward with her is an adventure,” Tanya Heyison said. “I look forward to going on this journey with her.”