Lacey Jai Henderson
With the middle name “Fields” and a brother named “Trax” – saying that Lacey Henderson has sports in her blood is an understatement. The 25-year-old native of Denver, Colorado, grew up with a father who competed and coached track and field at an elite level.
“Growing up, sport was always a huge part of my life. My dad went to the Olympic trials for Pole Vault in 1968 and he was also a two-time National Master’s Decathlon Champion.”
In fourth grade Lacey was diagnosed with rare form of cancer in her right knee. When chemotherapy made her violently ill and wasn’t achieving results, doctors gave her very few options. She ultimately chose life over her leg.
“I just wanted to be a normal person again and go back to school and I was tired of being sick,” she says. “So I said, 'Take it, I don't want it.’”
With a leg amputated before her tenth birthday you might think her brief athletic career had been cut prematurely short. Not so in the Henderson family. The question was not whether she could continue to play sports but what sports would she like to play. And the list was far from short.
“We thought my days of running were over so we explored other sports. I started with skiing and then I learned how to kayak, rock climb, snowboard, play volleyball and soccer, and then going into high school I started doing gymnastics classes to join my competitive cheerleading team.”
It was in the challenge of cheerleading where the 14-year-old amputee found her passion. She cheered all four years at a school that competed nationally and eventually attended the University of Denver on a Division-I athletic scholarship.
Lacey’s road to Paralympic sports began with a lighthearted bet against her father, who claimed she would never be able to pole vault with a prosthetic leg. Naturally she accepted the challenge.
“We are surrounded by track coaches so I went to a family friend who had a pit and poles and on my first day, on a C-Leg, I jumped 6 feet.”
The experience rekindled a long-dormant interest in track and field and she started looking into Paralympic athletics. Though she had never heard of “para sport” before then, she was confident that she could compete at the national level. And she was right. In 2011, Lacey won the silver medal in the 100m at nationals.
She now trains six days a week and her hard work has paid off: she has improved both form and technique, not to mention maximizing her Ottobock sports prosthesis. “I surprise myself all the time in what I am capable of,” she says. Her sharp rise in performance bought her a ticket to the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, where she placed fourth in the long jump and fifth in the 100 m sprint.
Right now her sights are set on the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where her goal is to be on the podium “for hopefully both of my events.”
Off the track, Lacey works with the Amputee Coalition and also volunteers every year as a counselor at an amputee youth.
Beyond her Paralympic dreams she is planning to start graduate school after the 2016 Games to earn a Master’s degree in Epidemiology. “I would like to eventually work for the US State Department in public health and use my language skills to work abroad.”
The Colorado native has also not forgotten where her road began and would like to advocate for pole vaulting as a Paralympic sport. “I want to start a pole vault exhibition for Paralympic events to eventually gain momentum and athletes for the event to be included in the Games.”
Key competitive achievemets:
- Gold in long jump (setting a new USA record) and silver in the 100 m at the 2014 USA National Athletics Championships.
- 4th in long jump and 5th in 100 m at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships
- Gold in long jump (breaking a 16-year USA record) and silver in the 100 m at the 2013 USA National Athletics Championships.
- Gold in 200 m at the 2012 USA National Athletics Championships.
- Silver in 100 m at the 2011 USA National Athletics Championships.
Year of birth: 1989
Sport: Athletics, 100 m and long jump
Personal Bests: 100 m -18.08 sec, long jump 3.32 m
Coach: Dan Pfaff/Nic Taylor
Home team/club: World Athletics Center, Pheonix / Arizona
Career highlights: Making the US National Athletics Team and setting a new American record in the Long Jump. Finishing 4th in the long jump and 5th in the 100m at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championship.