As Columbia’s Centra Mazyck leaves for London to compete in the women’s javelin throw in the 2012 Paralympics, she admits she’s a bit sketchy on the details when it comes to her main competition in the event.
“It’s a Croatian woman,” Mazyck said. “I don’t know her name. I just know the country. Names don’t really matter to me. If we’re on the podium together, I may get her name, and say, ‘Hey, how ya doin’.’ Until then, I don’t really care.”
It’s a perspective that’s easy to understand, given the circumstances. Since Nov. 26, 2003, when she was paralyzed from the waist down in a parachute training accident with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C., Mazyck’s main competition has been with herself and her own body.
Former First Sergeant Centra Mazyck remembers that Wednesday in 2003 as a particularly windy day. Her group was to make a routine jump before taking a break for Thanksgiving.
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She was looking forward to making her 35th and final jump and hosting family and friends for the holiday. Her plans were to return to school and finish work on a college degree in sociology and then come back to the military as an officer. The Army refers to it as the “Green and Gold” program.
Then things went terribly wrong.
As she jumped from the plane, a gust of wind carried her into a fellow jumper and their chutes became entangled.
Mazyck was able to free her chute before hitting the ground, but the impact was hard.
On the ground, unable to move as emergency personnel tended to her, she had thoughts of her son — 1-year-old Tristan.
“Even before they wheeled me off the drop zone, he was my first thought,” Mazyck said.
The initial prognosis following her injury was grim. She had severely injured the L1 and L2 vertebra in her lower back with resulting paralysis from the waist down. Doctors said it was highly unlikely she would walk again.
It was a diagnosis she refused to accept.
“I was just like, ‘No way,’ ” Mazyck said. “I kept thinking of my son. I refuse to let him see mommy fail.”
A day after surgery, remarkably, Mazyck was able to take a few tentative steps. A long, grueling rehabilitation process followed.
Although she’s capable of walking a limited distance, Mazyck is primarily confined to a wheelchair.
She hasn’t let it slow her down.
Mazyck, 36, had played basketball and run track in high school, first at Richland Northeast and later at St. Stephens High in St. Stephens.
She aggressively pursued sports — wheelchair basketball, snow skiing, power lifting and softball.
She also returned to school and received her degree in sociology from the University of South Carolina in December of 2010.
“She has not let her disability slow her down,” said Mazyck’s mother Patricia. “I knew she would get involved in something. I just didn’t know what it was going to be. She has always had to have a focus, a goal. She always completes a goal, not matter what.”
Around the time Mazyck graduated, her athletics focus had shifted to throwing the javelin, and she decided to make the 2012 Paralympics a full-time goal.
For the past two years, she has worked out as much as 30 hours a week in preparation.
Her fiancé, Darrell Fisher, video tapes her throws, sending them to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where javelin coaches view the tapes and respond with critiques.
Local fitness trainer Roland “Ralo” Wilcox handles Mazyck’s strength and conditioning work.
“Her training has been going well,” Wilcox said. “She has done everything I’ve asked her to do. She has been looking pretty good. I think she’s ready to go. I think she has a big chance if she stays mentally sound and has fun with it. I told her, ‘Don’t think about it that much. Just throw. Enjoy what you’re doing.’ ”
She earned her way into the Paralympics by placing first at the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this year.
Her throw of 20.64 meters is the second-best in the world this year behind “The Croation woman,” Antonia Balek.
Balek, the 2008 gold medalist, has a personal best throw of 22.39.
While Mazyck has visions of a gold medal, she believes she already has reaped her reward.
“It will mean the world to me to win a medal,” she said. “It would be the exclamation point. She did it! Hard work pays off. Believing in yourself pays off. Having a strong support system pays off. I’ve put my heart in it. Even if I don’t make the podium, it’s still worth it to me. How many athletes get this chance? Very few. Just to know that I made it this far is just a huge blessing. I am so blessed.”
As for what comes next in her life, she’s waiting on a sign from a higher authority.
“God gave me a second chance with that jump,” she said. “I’m here for a reason. I train and pray every morning for God to actually show me. I’m in the process. I can’t wait for him to let me know why I’m here now. I’m waiting on it.”