Otsego graduate A.J. Digby, a Paralympic runner who has competed several times on the national stage, competed at the World Para Athletics Championships in London last week.
At just 19, A.J. Digby has become a wise world traveler thanks to his impressive exploits on the track.
The Tontogony native is already an accomplished a Paralympic runner that has competed in world championships across the globe. Digby’s most recent adventure took him to London last week where he won a Bronze Medal.
Digby, an Otsego High School graduate, competed in the 200 meter and 400-meter running events at the World Para Athletics Championships in England.
The young sprinter had competed in Brazil at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He also has competed in Puerto Rico, Qatar, and Canada. He also has traveled to 38 states.
“I’ve been very blessed to see a lot of different things and it has helped me mature as a person,” Digby said. “I’ve always loved the USA and it makes me appreciate what we have here. To see different cultures, you see what other cultures have. It puts more scope to your life and how small your life is in the big scheme of things. Here I’m used to being in the middle of a cornfield, but now I’m flying across the globe. You get to see a large span of history.”
Digby, who will be a sophomore at Mount Union College this fall, was born with a congenital disorder that left him without fibula bones in both of his calves. At 10 months old, Digby had both feet amputated and he has always used prosthetic legs to get around. As a teenager, he began competing in sports using running blades.
Digby qualified to represent Team USA in the 200 and 400 races in the Paralympic Games last summer. He finished just outside Medal contention, placing fifth in the 200 and fourth in the 400.
But in London, he took third in the 400 with a time of 47.56 seconds to earn the Bronze Medal.
“That’s my first World Championship medal, so that’s very satisfying,” Digby said. “I walked away with the Bronze, so I’m very happy with how it went.”
In the 200, he took fourth with a season-best time of 22.15. He had run a time of 21.93 in Rio.
“I was expecting better in both events,” Digby said. “It was very disappointing to me. It’s not the race I had hoped for. But it’s a learning experience and a chance to grow. I’m happy to walk away healthy and be able to refocus on my next goal. There’s always room for improvement.”
Digby said the most rewarding part of the experience was competing in the same stadium where the 2012 Summer Olympics were held.
“I remember watching the Olympics on TV and I thought it would be cool to someday be there,” he said. “It’s the same facilities. That was the really neat thing.”
Digby was in London for two weeks and his family went with him on sightseeing tours.
“We were able to see the city. We went on one of those double-decker bus tours,” he said.
Digby said he enjoyed seeing historical landmarks including Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and London Bridge. But he was most impressed with the Tower of London.
“It’s a really big castle. I’ve always enjoyed global history,” he said. “It’s cool to realize what went into building that castle and the people who lived there.”
Aside from the competitions, Digby said he has enjoyed the “interactive history” that comes with traveling abroad.
“My favorite international trip was Puerto Rico,” he said. “I love traveling. I only have 12 states left to visit.”
But it’s far from all fun and games for Digby, who has been training since last September. He entered summer competition coming off a successful freshman campaign at Mount Union.
He won league titles in the Ohio Athletic Conference in the 400 outdoor meet and in the 500 indoor meet. The crowning achievement came in May when he anchored the Raiders’ 1600 meter relay team that won a Division III national title.
“It was a great, team effort to win the 4 by 4. We are a giant team and we support each other,” he said.
Digby is an exercise science major and his goal is to become a physical therapist. He also has a double minor in communications and hopes to be a high school coach. Digby, who is back home working a summer job at Otsego, begins training for the indoor college season in October.
The outgoing sprinter also enjoys the opportunity to show others the athletic capabilities of those with physical disabilities. He said he uses humor, including on his Twitter account (@Digby_AJ), to be a sort of spokesperson for Paralympians.
“I try to be a funny person. Whether other people think I’m funny is up to them,” Digby said, laughing. “It helps other people be more comfortable with my situation. It’s an ice breaker. It’s foreign to see people with prosthetics. So it’s a good way to break the ice when I meet a new person. It gets people comfortable. I’m totally fine with my body and myself. So it’s OK to ask questions about my scenario. I crack jokes to loosen the mood.”
Digby continues to work with Eastwood track coach D.J. Michel, who he said has been critical to his success.
“It’s been a long, crazy year. It was a fantastic year,” Digby said. “I loved it through and through.”