Visually impaired runner joins cross country team
Last updated 10/6/2021 at 9:09pm
Plainfield North High School senior Mi'kel Johnson-Watts is the first visually impaired cross-country runner in the school's history.
The 17-year-old senior moved to District 202 last school year and spent his first year as a Tiger learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. He took his first steps inside North when all district students returned to in-person learning.
"Getting to classes was a bumpy road. I had to have additional assistance," Johnson-Watts said.
Despite some initial challenges, he quickly focused on completing his goal to join the boys' cross-country team.
"He instantly impressed me," cross country Andrew Derks said. "He is incredibly real, kind, outgoing, and friendly and clearly has shown the ability to persevere through new challenges."
This is Johnson-Watts' first time competing in any sport. Running works well for him physically because the shunt in his head prohibits him from playing contact sports, he said.
"It's a blast. It feels like a junior marathon," Johnson-Watts said of being on the team.
Johnson-Watts has several designated running guides, but he primarily runs side-by-side with North freshman and boys' cross-country team manager, Aidan Dolata.
"I'm basically Mi'kel's eyes to help him avoid obstacles that could injure him and prevent him from running," Dolata said.
What someone can see from 800 feet, Johnson-Watts can see clearly from only about 20 feet away in his right eye. In his left eye, his visual acuity is 20/150.
"I trust my teammates," Johnson-Watts said.
"He's a senior and he gets to be a part of something. I'm going to cry talking about it and I've only known him for a few weeks. We're really a good group to be a part of," Derks said of the cross-country team and the Plainfield North family.