BENTON CITY — Chelsea McClammer’s self-styled uniform for her first trip to compete in wheelchair track was dark.
She wore a hood, dark black makeup, chains, earrings and bracelets.
She barely said a word to anyone and wouldn’t eat in front of others.
“We like to joke about how Chelsea came to us as a little goth girl,” said Teresa Skinner, Team St. Luke’s coach.
Six years later it’s hard to imagine McClammer as anything other than a high school graduate with a sunny disposition.
The Benton City 18-year-old is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of a car accident when she was 6.
One of the main reasons for the remarkable change in McClammer has been Spokane’s Team St. Luke’s, and the wheelchair racing McClammer excels at.
“It really is amazing,” said Rebecca Grimes, McClammer’s mom. “It’s turned out to present her with so many opportunities. You are thinking her future is going to be bleak, and it is turning out so amazingly bright.”
McClammer graduated from Richland High on Friday, and today will fly to Champaign, Ill., where she will attend the University of Illinois on an almost full-ride scholarship to participate in track and basketball for the Fighting Illini.
“I had no idea what I was going to do looking into the future,” she said. “Where I would go to college or what I wanted to do in life, but since I started sports I have more of a plan.”
That plan is to major in nutrition and eventually own her own nutritional counseling center someday.
But before all of that, she has some work to do.
McClammer is going to Illinois to begin training in earnest for the Paralympic Track and Field trials in Indianapolis from June 28-30.
She made the 2008 U.S. Paralympic team as a 14-year-old, competing in the 800 meters in Beijing.
Now, she is hoping for a return trip to the Paralympics, this time in London.
“My times aren’t there yet,” McClammer said. “My training has been spotty because of various equipment problems and a lot of traveling. It hasn’t been really consistent.”
McClammer only competed in three meets for Richland this spring — the Pasco Invite, CBBN 4A district meet and Star Track XXX in Tacoma. In between, she went to Switzerland and plenty of points in between representing Team St. Luke’s.
“It is a matter of having a routine,” McClammer said. “(In Illinois) we will be training six days a week, having a routine and being able to follow it so I can peak at the right moment.”
McClammer will compete in the 100, 200 and 400 meters at the trials. More than 200 athletes will be competing for about 60 spots, and McClammer certainly is not guaranteed a spot.
“That’s the big difference between Beijing and now,” Skinner said. “The standards (to qualify) are so much faster.”
Given what McClammer has accomplished in her life, though, a few seconds in the next month certainly seem possible.
McClammer initially joined Team St. Luke’s as a 7-year-old and qualified for a junior national meet, but Grimes decided to pull her out of the competition.
“I wasn’t ready for it,” Grimes said. “It was overwhelming to think that so soon after this accident she was going to be flown across the country to compete in wheelchair racing.”
During the next couple of years, though, Chelsea’s demeanor began to change.
“When she was 12 years old, I think she was starting to notice she was different than other kids in class,” Grimes said. “Her personality was changing and not for the best.
We bumped into the coach and she told us to come on out again and she did.
“It has been amazing ever since.”
McClammer began her high school career at Kiona-Benton City High School, before transferring to Richland before her junior year.
She has had nothing but success for the Bombers, capping her high school career by helping lead the school to a second consecutive combined team state title last weekend in Tacoma.
“I’m as proud of that as if I’d have had a state title with the able bodied team,” said Jim Qualheim, Richland High’s track and field coach. “Talk about an inspiration for a team. She trains right along with us on the track, spins laps, does intervals and does the things everyone else does.”
She also travels on the team bus with her classmates, getting to her seat in a unique manner.
“Mr. Qualheim has a pet peeve about me crawling onto buses,” McClammer said.
The longtime coach didn’t like the idea of his new athlete being on the floor of a dirty bus, so one of his biggest athletes — Dennis Christensen, a shot putter, offered to carry McClammer to her seat and has done so anytime McClammer has worn Richland’s green and yellow.
Later this month she hopes to trade them in for the red, white and blue of Team USA.