By Marty Gordon
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced Thursday afternoon that Radford men’s soccer alumnus Nick Mayhugh has been named to the United States Paralympic Track and Field team.
Mayhugh graduated from Radford University after a stellar career on the soccer field including time spent on the U.S. National Paralympic Soccer team that played on the international stage.
From Charlotte, Mayhugh set a new world record for the 100-meter event at the Paralympic Trials and a new American record for the 200-meter event, thus becoming a national champion in both events as well as being ranked first in the world for both events.
For Mayhugh, soccer was a lifesaver. He had always noticed something wrong with the left side of his body, thus he worked even harder to use just his right side on the soccer field.
“I never wanted to be looked at differently or treated differently because my norm was different,” Mayhugh said. “I remember being in my room and spending hours trying to teach myself how to tie my shoes with both hands, teaching myself to walk without a limp and even getting dressed without falling over. Going into middle school, I made a decision not to tell anybody and to keep it to myself.”
He initially had told his parents and medical personal, but no one really believed something was wrong because he was so active.
The problem made him work even harder. “I used to leave practices crying because I couldn’t use my left foot as well as I could my right; I couldn’t really feel it,” he said. “I think my self-awareness played a huge part as to why I am in the position I am in today. I spent countless hours after practice working extra or at home with my brother working on my left foot and doing cone drills to make myself better technically.”
He continued to work hard at the game he loved, and nothing was going to stop him from playing at a higher level. But in 2010 as a ninth grader, he suffered a grand mal seizure.
“I’ll never forget the first words my doctor spoke,” Mayhugh said. “I interrupted her and asked when I could play soccer again and she said she didn’t think I would ever be able to play soccer again. She initially thought I had a brain tumor. I remember seeing the life get sucked out of my mom when she heard those words, but I knew that couldn’t be true. It had to have been something else.”
The family got a second opinion, but it still wasn’t the message they wanted to hear.
Mayhugh was told he had a unique situation that medical personnel had not seen before. An MRI showed a grey circle on the right side of his brain called a dead spot.
Doctors said it was the result of a stroke in utero (before birth) or shortly after birth. Then all the dots sort of started to connect.
“The dead spot was just an inactive part of my brain and it made sense as to why I couldn’t really feel my left side, my arm, fingers, my leg and my foot, everything. All the nerves and pathways were inactive,” Mayhugh said. “I finally had an answer for everything, and my parents finally believed me and understood why I complained and said everything I did growing up. It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, a big sigh of relief because they finally believed me.”.
Doctors told him he would never play soccer ever again, but he was determined to continue the game he loved. He took the field on a youth team of the D.C United Soccer Academy, and soccer seemed to be the only way he could prove to the world he was not different. After some coaxing of the coaching staff at Radford University, he walked on the men’s team.
“I have always wanted to represent my country on the Olympic stage and Team USA gave me an opportunity to do that in track,” Mayhugh said. “After soccer was cut from the (2020 Tokyo Summer) games, Team USA recruited me to run track, and I have dedicated everything mentally, physically, and emotionally to track and field. I wanted to challenge myself and see how far I can go. To see if I really can do it, and here I am, proving myself right and a lot of people wrong.”
Because of his medical condition, he was invited to the U.S. Paralympic team camp for players with neurological conditions.
Mayhugh said representing his country in international play was an indescribable feeling.
During the Paralympic Games, track and field will be contested between August 27 and September 5, 2021, at the Olympic Stadium. At the last paralympics in 2016 at Rio, the track and field team brought home 43 medals. The full 2020 U.S. Paralympic team roster will be announced in early August and will feature an estimated 250 athletes.
The success at the global level just keeps coming for Mayhugh as he has collected many accolades while playing for the U.S. Paralympic soccer team. In 25 national team games, he has scored 34 goals and notched 31 assists while playing for 1,384 minutes. In 2019, he was named the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year with a Disability. He led the charge on offense for the fourth-ranked national team, its highest-ever world ranking. As a midfielder, he scored 19 goals in 11 games at the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football World Cup and the 2019 Para Pan-American Games.
Mayhugh continues to overcome many obstacles.
“It’s a personal vendetta I have with myself,” Mayhugh said. “I want to push myself to be the best athlete and person I can be. And until I do that, I will strive for what’s next, what else can I do, how far can I really go? And no matter what it is, I know I’ll be successful. It’s just the way I’m wired.”
Now he runs for the United States, Radford University and himself.
“I am going to Tokyo with my eyes set on gold. I am going to come home with two gold medals and two world records. Anything less is a failure to me,” he said.