Last time we spoke with Paralympic gold-medal hopeful Hunter Woodhall, he was getting ready for the NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships. That was just a few days before the initial COVID-19 quarantine restrictions kicked in. The meet was canceled, along with the entire spring outdoor season and the Paralympics themselves. “I’m unsure why things like this happen,” he wrote on March 13, “but I’m confident it’s all part of a bigger plan. Praying for the health and safety of everyone moving forward.”
And move forward he did—launching a new business, buying a house, maintaining his YouTube channel with Tara Davis, and taking a breather from seven-plus years of intense, almost nonstop training. He’s now refocused on running, as determined as ever to bring gold home from Tokyo. Here’s where Woodhall’s been for the last 10 months, and where he’s going.
When we talked last year, you described yourself as trying to get on a trajectory that hits its high point in Tokyo. So given that you had this 10-month interruption in competition and your normal routines, how do you get yourself back on that kind of journey? Do you feel like you’re on the right path?
Yeah, I think it’s a blessing in disguise. The break kind of gave me a chance to to pull away from track and take my mind off the sport. It was actually very freeing for me, because since I’ve been 14, every second of my life and every day has always been about track. So the day everything got canceled, I left to go to Austin to stay with Tara. And, you know, we just started working on things and finding other things we really love. So for me, it was it was more of a blessing than anything, and I think I needed it more than I knew at the time.
Coming back this season [at the University of Arkansas], I was a little more out of shape than maybe I would be coming into a normal fall training, but my body had never felt better. And, you know, it’s showing. My training is the best it’s ever been. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. Training is going in a really good direction. So I think if we can continue this and stay healthy, it’s gonna work out really well.
I just checked the results of Arkansas’s meet over the weekend and saw that you weren’t in the results. Just curious if you’re nursing an injury or if there’s some other reason why you didn’t compete.
I’m actually currently ineligible because of my business [Giant Hoodies]. We’re working right now to kind of try to resolve everything. It’s not a bad deal, but unfortunately I can’t really speak on it right now.
I totally understand. As long as you brought it up, how are things going with the business so far?
I’m doing really, really, well. Relatively speaking, it’s kind of exploded, and it’s just been growing exponentially.
When did you guys launch?
It would have been March of last year. Kind of right when COVID hit and right when our season ended and the Paralympics were cancelled. I thought, “I can either just kinda stop and complain about everything that’s going on, or I can get to work and try to create something.” That’s when we launched the company. And I’m really glad we did.
Our first month in March was fairly slow because, you know, we’re just starting out and trying to figure out everything. And then in April we switched the way we did things, and I took some tactics that I use on social media as far as growth and virality and applied them to our business. And, it just kinda started to take off. I feel like we kind of created a brand that people could connect with. And, you know, it was more than just about selling a product. And it was about, like, creating a community around a product. So I think people really clicked with that.
Does being ineligible mean you’re not able to work out with the team?
No, I’m totally involved with the team. I’m with them every day. Nothing has changed on that front. I’m just currently not competing. And even if I was eligible, I probably wouldn’t be competing right now just because it’s such a long season. So nothing is changing. Everything is going according to plan.
Have you had regular contact with Team USA and your track coaches there?
When March hit and everything kinda shut down, there was a very big lack of communication. I don’t think it was so much that anyone was purposely trying to do that. I think it was more just no one really knew what was going on. It was extra hard because no one knew what we were training for. My coaches were very much in the mind-set of just keep doing things that get you in shape. It’s maybe not running. So, you know, we’re doing a lot more things like biking and rollerblading and going swimming and things to keep me fit. But not necessarily running and training.
Has there been any point where you felt low? You know, where you mentally hit a trough and struggled a little bit?
I think my my struggle was very come and go. This is not the first, you know, bad thing or hurdle that’s gotten in my way. It was more just like, how can I make the best of the situation? My biggest fear was that, one, Tokyo was just not gonna happen. Luckily it got postponed rather than canceled. And two, obviously, just the fear of my family and friends and everyone being safe.
I know that you and Tara both both got the virus. But it sounds like your experience with it was pretty manageable.
It wasn’t bad at all for for me. I genuinely think if we didn’t get tested every week for track, I wouldn’t have even known that I had it. For Tara, it was a little bit worse. She had, I think, three days there where she was feeling pretty sick. And my roommate Luke, who’s one of my best friends and one of my teammates, he had it a few weeks before me. A lot of my teammates have tested positive, and some of my family members have got it. Unfortunately, one of my grandmas passed away from it.
I’m really sorry to hear that.
She had to go in for a surgery, and then in the hospital she got exposed to somebody. One of the nurses had it. And because of the surgery, her immune system was really low.
That’s a shame. I’m so sorry.
It’s really been kind of a crazy year.
Yeah, you’ve had a lot going on even with the Paralympics on hold. I saw that you and Tara bought a house together. That’s exciting.
Yeah. We’re under contract right now. I’m hoping everything goes through. It’s in the final stages, and we’re pretty excited about it. I’ll plan on moving in around February, and then Tara will probably come and move in with me after the NCAAs and the Olympics. So hopefully August or September.
Will you be running in any qualifying events prior to Nationals in mid-June? Is there any other international competition that that you might do before then?
I don’t have any plans for any international competitions right now, but in track and field you never know. It changes really quickly. In the next few weeks I should have word on the next steps as far as reinstating my eligibility and making sure everything’s good to go with my business. Then we’ll continue with the college season.
Do you know yet what you will be running in Tokyo? I assume you’ll be running the 4×4 relay and potentially the individual 400. Are those already carved into stone, or are there still variables that have to be worked out to figure out what you’re running over there?
I don’t think they’re running a relay this year. Once we figure out what events are gonna be available, we’ll have a better idea of what that looks like. I plan on running the 400 most definitely. If there’s a 200 in our class, I’ll be running a 200. And then I might come down and run the 100 as well and and show these guys what it’s all about.
We’ll be checking in with Woodhall and other amputee athletes regularly between now and the Paralympics, so you can follow their journeys right here. Read more about Hunter Woodhall: