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September 28. 2012 10:17PM

John Habib's City Sports: NH wheelchair racer eyes Boston qualifier


Mike Psaledas, of Manchester, became the first wheelchair athlete to compete in and finish the Manchester City Marathon. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)


Manchester Memorial wrestler Steve Dwight before a practice on Feb. 2. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER FILE)

I'VE NEVER met Mike Psaledas in person, but if our paths ever cross, he'll get one of the biggest hugs of his life.

Over the past year, I've written several columns about people who have touched the lives of others in a special way — people such as Luke Capistran, Dan Duval, Christine Freitas and Frank Sullivan. Add to that impressive list Psaledas, a 43-year-old Hooksett resident who's been an inspiration to anyone fortunate enough to know him.

As a youth, he took an interest in motocross and turned out to be very good — so good that at the age of 9, he won a national championship in his age group.

But tragedy struck during a regional competition 12 years ago in Central Village, Conn.

“I was getting ready to execute an uphill triple, which is three jumps in a row,” Psaledas recalled in a phone interview this week. “What happened is, the guy in front of me didn't do all three jumps, and I ended up in a collision. I went over the handlebars, and when I landed, I broke my neck, left arm and ribs on both sides. I suffered a collapsed lung and severed my spine.”

What makes this story special — what makes Psaledas special — is that he didn't let his disability stop him living his life.

“Believe it or not, there are a lot of other people who have it much worse than I do,” he said. “I've seen it, meeting people in hospitals. Some have it much worse. I make a point of going back to the hospital just to tell them that if I can do it, you can do it.”

Amazingly, Psaledas has overcome catastrophic accidents not once, but twice. Four years after the 2000 accident left him in a wheelchair, he was struck by a car while training for a road race in the sport that had replaced motocross as his competitive outlet. That accident broke his hip, and complications followed.

“Unfortunately, the first surgery on my hip didn't heal right,” he said. “I had to undergo another surgery, which required breaking the hip again and re-pinning it.”

But that didn't stop him from returning to road racing, and in 2010, he became the first wheelchair winner of the Manchester City Marathon.

Earlier this year, Psaledas met local runner and race organizer Christine Pariseau Telge, who talked him into entering the Smuttynose Marathon, which starts and finishes at Hampton Beach Sunday morning.

“It's a qualifier for the Boston Marathon,” said Psaledas. “The goal is to cross the finish line at 2 (hours) 15 (minutes) or better, and I know I'm capable of doing it. I've never competed in the Boston Marathon, and that's my next goal.”

The Seacoast course of the Smuttynose, he thinks, is a good place to meet that 2:15 Boston qualifying time for wheelchair racers in his age division.

“I actually got to map out the entire course, which is relatively flat,” he said. “I counted 51 turns along the course, and a few are sharp, but I'll be ready.”

Psaledas says he draws his strength and inspiration from his dad, Jim, of Hillsborough.

“All those days I was in the hospital following my (motocross) accident, Dad would make the two-hour drive back and forth from Hillsborough to Boston),” said Psaledas. “He never missed a day, always was by my side.”

Psaledas says he plans on competing in the Manchester City Marathon again this November.

“It's the one day out of the year when I get the key to the city and own the roads,” he said with a laugh.

______


WHILE the NHIAA continued its investigation into the eligibility of a Manchester Memorial High football player who transferred from Manchester Central last spring, Little Green head coach Ryan Ray said Thursday night it was business as usual heading into today's Division I noon match against the Crusaders at Chabot-McDonough Field.

“There's no distraction from our end,” said Ray. “In fact, no one is talking about it. “

At Memorial, head coach Peter Colcord said, “If anything, it's been more of a distraction for me during my school day answering questions. But from a team standpoint, there's been no distraction. We've been focused, and actually we've had some of our best practices of the year this week.”

As for the rare noon start, Colcord said it was Memorial principal Arthur Adamakos' decision.

“This is such a strong rivalry, and I know there was some rowdyism among some fans associated with last year's game,” said Colcord. “Now there weren't any big fights or anything, but I can understand the administration wanting to try to keep it low-key. I certainly would have preferred Friday night, and I also know Central wasn't happy with the time change. But, again, I understand what the administration is trying to do.”

______


FORMER Memorial fullback and heavyweight wrestler Steve Dwight's debut at the Hyde School in Bath, Maine, was nothing short of outstanding.

In a 28-16 road victory over New Hampshire's Tilton School last week, Dwight racked up 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

“You know, I didn't know what to expect, and I'm not just talking football,” Dwight said of his experience at Hyde. “This is all new to me and a new life experience, being away from home, my family, for the first time. I was definitely nervous.”

But so far, so good.

His teammates and coaches have welcomed and embraced his leadership, and he's making the most of an opportunity he hopes will land him a football scholarship at an NCAA Bowl Subdivision or Championship Subdivision school.

“It's all been positive so far,” said Dwight. “I love the atmosphere here, love my team. We have chemistry.”

Dwight, at 5 feet, 11 inches and 245 pounds, is playing both ways at the fullback and middle linebacker spots.

“I'm used to it, and the more playing time I get, the better it is for me,” he said. “I'm going up against players bigger than me, and it's just full speed ahead. My motor runs from start to finish.”

Wrestling, he said, is very much in his future — but not his present.

“I'm fortunate I'm able to compete very well in two sports,” he said. “Whichever one takes me the furthest is fine by me. But right now it's football season, and that's where my focus is.”

______


TENNIS FOLLOWERS will be happy to hear two-time NHIAA singles and doubles champion Mark HoSang of Bedford is adjusting just fine at the University of Connecticut.

At last check, he was 3-3 in doubles and 1-2 in singles, the singles win coming against Soufiane Azargui of Brown, a top-rated player for the Bears this season.

“I practice against 10 extremely good kids, so I feel like I'm getting better each day,” HoSang said. “I also receive terrific instruction from my coach. In matches, college players serve much bigger and are faster. I'm working on maximizing my strengths, which are quickness and ground strokes.”

“City Sports” appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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