CRANFORD, NJ - It may take her a little extra time to prepare, but she doesn't want any special treatment.
Catarina Guimaraes is a freshman ahtlete at Cranford High School who was born with Cerebral Palsy that affects the left side of her body.
Guimaraes was born 9 weeks premature but it wasn’t until later that she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. When it was noticed that she was walking with such an emphasis on her toes that they were turning purple, her parents began to seek out the opinion of doctors.
A common symptom of Cerebral Palsy is speech deficiency, but by the time she was 24 months old, Guimaraes was able to speak both Portugese and English, which further clouded the assessment of doctors.
"The doctors were like, 'there's no speech deficiency here, so what is this?', said Guimaraes. "They even called my mother neurotic and told her I didn't have anything, so we ended up going to a doctor in Portugal. They saw me walk and did stuff with me, which I don't remember, but this is what they tell me. They ended up saying I had Cerebral Palsy and sent me back to a doctor in America."
Despite the diagnosis, Guimaraes and her family proceeded to ensure she have a normal childhood, and as just a freshman in high school, she may be the most accomplished athlete in the school's history. By the age of four years old, Guimaraes took up Taekwondo karate, which she did for ten years and became a second-degree black belt.
As she got older, she began rock climbing, playing soccer, and competing in multiple track and field contests, and went on to join the North Jersey Navigators, a program comprised of a wide range of recreational and adaptive/wheelchair sports that have been specially designed to develop and enhance the mobility skills and athletic skills of children with disabilities.
Since 2016 Guimaraes holds national records for every Track and Field event available for T38/ F38 Athletes (T-38 and F-38 are the classifications types). She finished 2018 with the following rankings (USA Ranking, International Ranking):
100 metres - #1 - #20 (National Record Holder)
200 metres - #2 - #18 (National Record Holder)
400 metres - #2 - #16 (National Record Holder)
800 metres - #1 - #3 (National Record Holder)
1500 metres #1 - Not an international event (National Record Holder)
Long Jump - #1 - #15 (National Record Holder)
Javelin #1 - Not registered for field Internationally (National Record Holder)
Shot Put #1 - Not registered for field Internationally (National Record Holder)
Discus #1 - Not registered for field Internationally (National Record Holder)
In 2018, Guimaraes also won the 2018 Best Female Sportsmanship Award at the TriState National Masonic Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports Competition.
"A lot of people when they're in competitions, they really focus on the competitions and themselves, but usually they put me with some of the younger members because there's not a lot of people competing. Whenever I finish the race, I make sure to turn around and cheer for all of the people if they're still running," said Guimaraes. "You'll hear me screaming for everyone even if they're not on my team."
Her goal for 2019 is to reach a sub-15 second 100M time, make the ParaPan Games in Peru, and also Junior Worlds in Switzerland. Both competitions are seen as qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.
Now part of a National Soccer team for athletes with Cerbral Palsy, Guimaraes will be joining Team USA later this month in Ireland as the only female player for Team USA competing in this years Dublin Cup.
Even with all of her national and international events, Guimaraes will be competing on the Cranford High School Spring Track and Field team. Head coach John Schiano, who coached Guimaraes during the winter track season, is excited to have her back for another season.
"She wants to be right there with the other athletes and no special treatment," said Schiano. "Just seeing her work from day one, she works harder than anybody. She gets every ounce out of her body with what she's capable of doing."
Cranford High School Physical Education and Head Football Coach Erik Rosenmeier has Guimaraes in his weight room class and echoed the sentiment of many on her mentality and drive.
"She comes to class every day ready to train and trains as hard as she can every day," said Rosenmeier. "That's what I noticed about her more than anything else. She never backs out of any exercise and she works extremely hard from the stretching that we do at the beginning to the ab workout that we do at the end. She's always at a 10 effort. And that stands out."
Though she has overcome many challenges, Guimaraes sometimes gets the feeling of being "stuck in the middle."
"With going to an adaptive team and an able-body team, it's a different feeling," she said. "Sometimes, because I look so able-body, and I work really hard to look able-body, it's kind of like a stuck-in-the-middle feeling because I'm not as good as some of the able-bodies, but then some of the adaptive athletes are like a, 'why is she here?, sort of thing."
To help keep her motivated, Guimaraes follows the career of Sophie Hahn, a parasport athlete from England who also competes mainly in T-38 sprint events.
"The world record holder for my classification is Sophie Hahn," Guimaraes said. "I'm always looking to see what she ran and stuff like that or videos from what she's been doing because, I guess, that's just like who I want to be."