Josh Norris will represent Blacksburg’s running community on an international stage in March when he competes in the 10K, half marathon and 4 X 400 relay at the Special Olympics World Games 2019 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Josh will travel to the Middle East with his twin brother Ben, his mom B.J., his dad Stan, his coach Peter Dorrell, more than 200 athletes (7 from Virginia), 60+ coaches and approximately 34 delegation members who support team operations.
Josh has run competitively since high school, lettering in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track for Blacksburg High. He’s now run eight marathons and regularly finishes near the front in local road races.
Competing at the World Games will fulfill a dream he’s had since he started running and competing in Special Olympics at age 11.
“When I found out I had been selected, I was shocked — and honored,” he said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I hope to make the best of it.”
It’s also an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted.
Two major surgeries last year related to a perforated bowel left him wondering if he would ever run again – much less compete at last year’s USA Games in Seattle, a precursor to the World Games.
Josh had an ostomy after the first surgery, in January of 2018, and wore a colostomy bag for over 8 months. A second operation in September reversed the colostomy.
He credits his surgeon, Dr. David Stoeckle, with helping him believe he could return to training. On Feb. 5, less than a month after surgery, he ran again.
“Not far and not long – but I ran,” Josh says. “With Peter Dorrell’s training advice, I continued to get better every day. It was sheer determination and good advice that got me through it all. Overall, the experience really taught me how important staying in shape is so that when bad things happen, recovery can be possible. My body told me not to quit and to never give up.”
That determination paid off when Josh achieved personal records in all three of his races at the USA Games.
Now he’ll try to the same in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia. Moved to Blacksburg in summer of 2006.
When and why did you start running? I started running with my dad when I was about 11 years old. My dad encouraged me to take up running. He was a runner and had finished several marathons.
Which of your eight marathons was your favorite?Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach was my favorite because that’s where I got my 3:41 PR. But, it was also one of the worst. The winds were just awful and the cold air coming off the ocean was freezing. I was an icicle at the finish line!
Most frustrating running experience? Nagging IT band issues! I really feel they held me back. In my first marathon, I almost didn’t finish because it was like my IT band just blew up. I did ok in shorter distances, but EVERY marathon I seemed to have problems at about 22 miles. Traditional physical therapy just didn’t work. I finally found a rehab specialist who really knows what he’s doing and those issues are all but gone. But, I know I’ll always have to work to keep them from becoming a problem again.
What’s an average training week? Typically, I do two tempo work outs a week. Then, depending on what I’m training for, I’ll do short runs (30-50 minutes) several days and at least one long run, which could vary from 1 hour to two+ hours.
Who inspires and/or motivates you? James DeMarco because he was my head coach at Blacksburg High and really believed in me. My dad because he was the one who got me into running and does everything he can to be at all my races. Peter Dorrell because I have a great deal of respect for him and he’s one of the best runners I’ve ever known.
Advice for new runners? Never give up. If you don’t feel like running, run anyway. You’ll be glad you did.
Favorite race? 5K at USA Games!
Any running superstitions or rituals? No real superstitions but I am obsessive about getting at least 10 hours of sleep before a race and eating breakfast 3 hours before the race. It also completely throws me off if I don’t get to put Vaseline on my toes (those blister resistant socks don’t work!).
Fact many people don’t know about you? My grandfather was born in Cuba and one day I plan to visit his birthplace.
You’ve had some special running opportunities (2015 Law Enforcement Torch Run; 2018 Special Olympics USA Games). What are some of your favorite memories? The entire Law Enforcement Torch Run was one big memory. Thirteen days and about 50 cities, including getting to run across the Golden Gate Bridge and through Disney Land’s “main street” at night! Overall, however, the 2018 USA Games were my favorite – an amazing experience. And, although I only won a bronze medal in the 5K, it was probably my best race ever and an absolute photo finish with the runner who ended up with 4th place. I didn’t know him before the race but got to know him over the course of the week – and his family – and hope we’ll get to see each other again at future competitions. Who knows? Maybe at the 2020 Games, which will be in his home town of Orlando, Florida.
When do you leave for the 2019 World Games? The games will be March 14-21. However, I’ll be spending several days in the host town of Dubai before the games start. Traditionally, each country’s team spends time in a host town in order to learn about the culture of the host country. So, I’ll leave Blacksburg March 5 to travel to meet up with the entire USA team in New Jersey. Then we’ll travel together to Dubai. Track and field events will be held in Dubai; however, the half-marathon will be run in Abu Dhabi, where most of the other events will be held.
How to support Josh and Special Olympics
Every World Games athlete is challenged to raise $7,000 for Special Olympics. Donate online or drop off a check at Runabout Sports in Blacksburg (with Josh’s name in the memo line). Half the money raised will stay in NRV to support local programs. The other half will go to Special Olympics Virginia to help offset the cost of sending the Virginia athletes to World Games. Give now and double your impact because a donor will match the first $2,500 raised.
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