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Paralympic athlete aims high at Wellness Center

January 17, 2017

If you’re looking for a little inspiration to kick start your fitness routine and goals in the New Year, head over to the NCH Wellness Center and strike up a conversation with Tom Huene.

Huene is a longtime resident of Arlington Heights, a father of four boys, a cancer survivor and Paralympic athlete who joined the Wellness Center last year. Most days, you’ll find the 53-year-old training hard for the next Paralympic National Championships in Los Angeles, where he plans to defend his gold medal in the javelin this June.

The transition to throwing a javelin was natural for Huene, who back in the day, played baseball and was a pitcher for his alma mater, Purdue University. While seated in his wheelchair, Huene throws the javelin, discus or shot put. He has won gold medals in all three events in the three short years he has participated in the U.S. Paralympic track and field program.

“This NCH training program is going to have me in better shape this year than I’ve been before for Paralympic games,” Huene says. He gives it his all four days a week at the Wellness Center, including one day a week with his lead personal trainer, Kimberly Trinco. “We’ve planned to focus 50 percent of my training toward Paralympic sport and 50 percent toward life, such as cardio to keep my heart healthy,” he says.

Huene says working with Trinco has been motivational and highly energizing as she is presenting new ways to train each week. “All of the trainers here at the Wellness Center have been motivating, and each has a hands-on role in my progress,” Huene says. “Together we set goals, we keep score and we break records.”

“In my last appointment we broke a record,” he says. “I walked the distance of a basketball court with assistance. I got it down to one minute, 10 seconds!”

But Huene’s proudest accomplishment at the Wellness Center came when he, Trinco and trainer Eric Bishop walked up and down the gym’s main staircase—twice in 30 minutes. Huene used his walker and the staircase railings to help him. Next up: Train in the pool and walk in water.

In addition to training and working hard with Trinco, Huene enjoys boxing, weight training and stair climbing. “Wellness Center members, along with the entire staff, have become my new teammates,” he says. “We are a connected unit that supports each other in the pursuit of happier, healthier lives.”

Huene thanks his wife of 26 years, Christine, and their boys, Matt, 24, Jason, 22, Christopher, 21, and Michael, 15, for their love and support since he was diagnosed with cancer in his spinal cord in 2004.

After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the tumor decreased in size and Huene’s doctors monitored it with regular MRIs. Six years later, though, the tumor started to grow, and Huene underwent surgery to have the tumor removed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Because the tumor was wrapped around his spinal cord between the shoulder blades, Huene experienced a spinal cord injury and became paralyzed. He continues to have 100 percent use of his arms, but he is in a wheelchair 99.5 percent of the time.

Today, Huene is focused on motivating and helping others who are disabled find a sense of pride, joy and passion in sports.

“I have a new perspective on happiness,” he says. “Now whenever I see a disabled person in crisis, it’s easy for me to go up to him or her and have a conversation. I try to make a new teammate.”

Huene volunteers as a field coach for the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, a non-profit organization for hundreds of disabled athletes in the Chicago area. He also helps a young man train for the javelin, discus and shot put Paralympic events.

Learn more about the NCH Wellness Center.