ROCKDALE, Texas (KXAN) — Dustin Strelsky never thought he would get this chance.
The junior at Rockdale High School was left paralyzed after a car accident in 2010. Saturday he will compete for three state championships at the University Interscholastic League track and field state meet.
“I know that every high school athlete’s dream is to win a state championship,” Strelsky said. “Knowing that I have the opportunity to do that now is completely amazing.”
This is the first year wheelchair events are a part of the state meet. Texas is the 10th state to add separate wheelchair events to its state championship, according to the UIL.
Strelsky is the top qualifier in all three events: the 100 meters, 400 meters and the shot put.
As a sixth grader, Strelsky was fighting for his life. A drunk driver collided head-on with a car being driven by Jennifer Strelsky, Dustin’s mother. Dustin and his older sister were passengers in the car and were rushed by helicopter to the hospital.
Dustin’s injuries were the most severe.
“They didn’t think I was going to make it, so they were telling my family to go in overnight and tell me goodbye,” he said.
Jennifer Strelsky did say goodbye to her son that night but saw his vital signs improve over the following days. He would survive but his injuries were life altering.
After a few weeks Dustin was asking doctors why he could not feel his legs.
“One of the doctors was really dreading going in there to tell Dustin why,” Jennifer Strelsky remembers. “[He] told Dustin the reason why and he said, ‘okay.'”
It was an example of the understated positivity that has become Dustin’s hallmark.
“One thing I learned from the accident is that you can’t look back, you can’t let the negatives hold you back,” he said. “You always have to look to the positives in life.”
Strelsky got involved in wheelchair tennis six months after the accident. Tennis – he plays on the Rockdale varsity team and competes against able-bodied athletes – led him to track and field.
“That really helped me go forward after my accident, being able to play a sport again,” he said.
But tragedy improbably struck again in March while Strelsky was competing at a track meet.
“I just talked to my dad,” said Jennifer Strelsky, “and said Dustin is fixing to compete at 10 o’clock, he said, ‘we’re on our way.'”
Dustin’s grandparents, Wayne and Margie Brinkley, were part of a four vehicle collision on U.S. 79 on the way to the meet. They were pronounced dead on the scene. The accident about 20 miles from the site of Dustin’s crash, along the same highway.
“When I found out the news from my mom, I just instantly broke down,” Dustin said. “Having that toll on me, I know I’m going to go to the state track meet for them, and I’m going to win it for them…I know now they’re smiling down and just saying how proud they are of me doing this and inspiring people, I know they’re proud.”
Even in his grief, Dustin is eager to compete at the state meet. This will be the first time he’s raced against other Paralympic athletes.
“Before the accident I was very competitive,” he said, “and being able to show after the accident how competitive I am, it’s a great feeling.”