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CHS track runner tackles life’s challenges to compete – with podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On May 27, Claremont High School junior Benjamin Schulz took a four-hour trip with his parents down to Buchanan High School to race in the CIF State Championships for the boys track and field 400-meter dash.

Schulz, who only has a left arm, competed in the Ambulatory Para division alongside five other runners, smashing the 400-meter course with a breathtaking 1:01.68 time to take home the CIF title.

It’s been mostly an up and down track season for Schulz, who competes in the medium distance sprints for the CHS track team. In the fall, he trades medium sprints for cross-country running.

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However, his historic season might not have even been written after he sustained an injury right before the track season’s start.

“I was playing soccer with my friends. It was just a pick-up game and I just like rolled my ankle and it just fractured a part of my ankle,” he said. “And so, the first couple of races, two or three races, I couldn’t run.”

Thankfully, Schulz made a swift recovery and was back on the track before the Palomares League season’s end.

“I raced two or three races, went to league finals and I just blew myself out,” he said. “It was like the fastest race I’ve ever run and then that’s what qualified me for the 400 [meter] race at state.”

At the Palomares League Finals, Schulz competed in the 400-meter dash at the junior varsity level against two-armed peers. Despite somewhat of an advantage, Schulz finished with a time of 1:00.99, according to athletic.net. Based on his solid time, Chris Ramirez, CHS’s head coach for cross-country and the assistant coach for distance runners for track and field, entered Schulz in the CIF State ambulatory 400-meter race. Schulz would be one of six runners who were granted entry, and as they say, the rest is history.

At state, he bested all six runners and finished the race about seven seconds ahead of second-place Michael Reyes of San Francisco International High School, who finished with a time of 1:08.40 according to CIF records.

Asked if Schulz deserved the title, Coach Ramirez said, “Of course.”

“Ben, from the moment I started coaching him when he was a freshman, has always had a lot of speed,” Coach Ramirez said. “Even though he’s typically a cross-country runner or a mid-distance runner in track, I knew that he would run very well in the 400 meters because he has all that natural leg speed.”

Recalling the day he became a state champion, Schulz said it all went by so fast. He didn’t have time to be nervous because after CIF race officials brought out the six ambulatory runners, they only had a minute to warm up.

“When they blew that gun, I was not prepared,” he said. “I hadn’t stretched or something and I just left [the starting line] and it went pretty well.”

During the race, he kept telling himself not to slow down. Once he crossed the finish line, he said, “I felt like I was on top of the world.” Likely a blend of euphoria and pain, he remembers it mostly being pain.

“My legs were so tired. I finished, I bent over and was like ‘Oh my God, my legs are so tired,’” he said. Exhausted, he said he remembers feeling light-headed during the awards ceremony minutes later.

Schulz and Coach Ramirez hope to build on the junior’s already strong foundation next season and defend his CIF title. Whether Schulz is in the ambulatory race again or among his two-armed peers, he knows he can get faster than one minute flat next time after improving his 100- and 200-meter times.

But before any track and field work is to be done, the junior is currently training with his teammates in preparation for cross-country in the fall.

According to Coach Ramirez, Schulz brings a lot to the teams he’s on in addition to his running ability. Schulz is a hard worker and sets a great example for his teammates on how to be a dedicated athlete.

“For Ben, I’m excited to see him go as far as he can in running,” Coach Ramirez said. “It’s really fun, inspiring and awesome … to see him race.”

“He has one of the biggest finishes on the team. If you see a race where Ben is finishing, he’s probably going to outkick between five and 10 kids in the last 150 to 250 meters,” Ramirez said. “He’s got a big finish, he’s got a big heart, and yeah I’m expecting really great things from him.”

“I feel like I’m part of the [CHS] team. We’re all a part of the team, but like everyone stands out in their own way and I feel like this is part of what makes me an individual, as a part of the team,” Schulz added, referring to his missing limb.

He doesn’t let much get in his way of experiencing life. He’s just a normal teenager with some accommodations — like the special knob on his steering wheel to help him turn and signal as he drives.

“All my friends basically don’t even notice it anymore. I hardly notice it. It’s just like when we’re doing something physical like a push-up competition or something, I’ll notice and be like wait a second, I can’t do that,” he said laughingly.

While Schulz is the only ambulatory runner at CHS, and was the only one of his track and field teammates to compete at the state level this year, he said his win back on May 27 meant the world to him.

He also said the win was not just for himself or the school, but for those next in line to become ambulatory runners at CHS.

“Honestly, I think like everyone is so happy that I was able to compete and win,” he said. “I don’t know, it just felt so amazing … that I could be the one there for all of them.”

Schulz thanked his parents, Joseph Schulz and Jennifer Armstrong for always being his biggest supporting cast.

As for what’s next for Schulz, he said with senior year and summer on the horizon, he needs to begin prepping for college admissions — and to get a job. Although he has no college picked out yet, Princeton University is his number one school as he believes he can succeed academically and athletically there.

But whether life goes as planned or skews a bit, he knows one thing for sure, that he plans to keep on running.

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