Henry Waterman pressed his left foot against one steel plate and guided his carbon fiber blade onto the other. As he slowly lifted his chin, the Mater Dei junior trained his eyes down the long straightaway toward the finish line. All that remained was the pop of the starter’s pistol.
Three years ago, Waterman didn’t know a starting block from a downfield block, but his development as a para-ambulatory sprinter has mirrored his performance on the track.
He catches up quick.
Waterman is now a four-time CIF-State champion with eyes on competing in the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
Waterman wears a prosthetic on his lower right leg because he was born with a condition called fibular hemimelia. That left him without the main bone that runs down the lower half of the leg, as well as a deformed foot.
As he approached the age of 2 and became increasingly mobile, the decision was made to amputate just below the knee.
“We wanted to make sure that, when he was older, he knew we did everything. Every single doctor, or procedure, or options that he had,” his mother Kelly Waterman told KABC last year. “Because we had to make the decision for him.”
Waterman kept active while growing up, participating in baseball, basketball, football, soccer and martial arts.
He came to Mater Dei planning to play football all four years. He played the first two, finding a home at outside linebacker on the junior varsity team because, “I like hitting people.”
It was his passion for football that led Waterman to join the track team in the spring of his freshman year. Like a lot of football players, Waterman thought it would be a great way to fine tune his speed and conditioning.
The track coaches immediately noticed that Waterman brought a football mentality to the track.
“He said, ‘I like to hit people,’” Mater Dei track coach Sam Collins remembered. “So I said, ‘come out here and let’s beat people.’ “
In his first season with the Mater Dei track team, Waterman won CIF-State titles in the 100 and 200 meters in the para-ambulatory division.
After getting edged out for state titles in the 100 and 200 in his sophomore year, Waterman put himself back at the starting line at the CIF-State track and field championships on May 24, looking to take back the titles he captured as a freshman.
He not only accomplished those goals, but put his name in the record books.
His winning times of 12.22 seconds in the 100 and 25.23 in the 200 were both state meet records.
“I wish in the 100 I was a little bit faster,” Waterman told the OC Register afterward. “I just screwed up a little bit near of the end of the race. The 200 really turned out well for me.”
Waterman is used to answering questions about his disability, from how it happened to how he overcomes it.
Around the house, however, his disability is practically unnoticed.
“I don’t see him as disabled,” his father, Scott Waterman, told KABC. “Every now and then, I have to tell him to put his leg on so he can go do some chores.”