Feature by Eric Owens
LONDON, England, September 3. THE 2012 London Paralympic Games is underway and American swimmer Joe Wise is ready. After battling Mitochondrial Myopathy, a life threatening disease, for nearly a decade on a day to day basis, 20-time American Record Holder, Joe Wise has never given up. Mitochondrial Myopathy is a severe muscular disorder that affects Joe's legs, hips, abdominals and lungs, making regular tasks like breathing a matter of life and death.
Astounding doctors by living past the age of 15, Joe proved that he would not succumb to this death sentence without a fight. With the relentless attitude to overcome this seemingly unbeatable disease, Joe has become the perfect role model of living life to the fullest, and is competing in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
Joe's epic journey began with a simple conversation back in 2005 when he walked on the swim deck in Palo Alto for the first time at the age of 12. Shy and uncertain, Joe stayed safely hidden behind his mom. The two approached Coach Mark Taliaferro, and Joe's mother said, “Hi, I'd like my son to come and swim with you, he really wants to do this”. Still desperate to stay hidden from sight, Joe remained silent. Mark responded, “That's great, but I need to hear it from him.” Joe contemplated, and soon determined that he did want to swim. But Joe, already given a death sentence set his bar high, it was now or never and all or nothing. He knew almost immediately what his calling was: to compete in the Paralympics.
“Once he figured out that this is what he wanted to do, I was all in.” — Mark Taliaferro
After a successful performance in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, Joe had a four-year roller coaster ride with his disease, constantly combating health issues, injuries and every other issue that normal teenagers face. Now he has made it to London, in four events, returning to the Games as a confident veteran, humbly crediting his success not only to himself but to his coaches, family, doctors and friends. Most importantly Joe attributes his “never give up, keep fighting” attitude from his mom, the mantra that he now lives by and thrives on.
“When it comes to the people in my life: luck didn't get me to London, they did. I am swimming for myself, kids with mito (mitochondrial myopathy), family and friends, but most of all my country.”
Joe's goals are simple this week: post new best times and have fun doing it. You might catch Joe joking around with teammates, blasting country music or even dancing to Call Me Maybe. However, as soon as Joe steps up on the blocks, he only has one thing on his mind: putting his hand on the wall first. In that particular moment when he steps up on the blocks, life is simple, everything else is blocked out and his fierce racing mentality comes into play. Similar to other athletes, Wise has his own personal goals and chooses to keep them private between himself and his coaches. When asked how Joe responds to challenges, longtime coach, supporter and family friend, Mark Taliaferro, had this to say about him:
“He takes the challenge, accepts it, figures it out and just never stops until he gets what he wants.” — Mark Taliaferro
Joe is scheduled to swim four events in London: 200 IM, 400 Free, 100 Free, and 100 Breast; a busy, yet manageable schedule for a determined individual. Instead of looking at this schedule with any sense of anxiety, he looks at it as an amazing opportunity to prove himself. After asking Joe what his thoughts were going into his first event, he had this to say:
“I'm so pumped up! I'm ready for this. I'm sitting here watching opening ceremonies. I trained four years for this. I am pumped up! More pumped up for this than anything.”
Keep your eyes open for Joe Wise in the 2012 Paralympic Games.