American sprinter Hunter Woodhall is a two-time Paralympic medalist, the first double amputee to earn a Division I track and field scholarship and a social media star alongside girlfriend and Olympian Tara Davis.
The 22-year-old was born in Cartersville, Georgia. In his youth he lived in several other states including Montana before his family ultimately settled in Utah. A four-time world medalist, Woodhall won five state titles, broke both the 400m and 4x400m relay state records and was No. 5 in the nation while at Syracuse High School.
Woodhall now specializes in the 400m, but he also runs the 100m and 200m. He was a four-time first-team All-American at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he currently lives and trains.
Similar to how some Olympic sports categorize by sex or weight, Paralympic sports group athletes by disability.
This process is called classification — it helps ensure that competition is as fair and equal as possible so that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, rather than degree of disability. Each sport has a unique classification system, and classifications are sometimes adjusted over time.
Woodhall currently competes in the T62 classification, which is for athletes who have lower limb impairments – specifically, "bilateral below knee limb deficiency, competing with prostheses where minimum impairment criteria for lower limb deficiency are met," according to World Para Athletics rules.
He previously competed in the T44 and T43, two classifications that fall under the same impairments grouping.
The former is for those "competing without a prothesis … where the impairment in only one limb meets the minimum impairment criteria … roughly comparable to that found in an athlete with one through ankle / below knee amputation;" while the latter is for those "competing without prostheses where both limbs meet the minimum impairment criteria … roughly comparable to that found in an athlete with bilateral below-knee amputations."
Woodhall has said his first pair of prosthetics were life-changing.
Woodhall was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition that stops lower limbs from developing properly, and had his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old. He was homeschooled until fifth grade.
Woodhall grew up playing soccer, baseball, basketball, wrestling, football, track, snow skiing, knee boarding and wake boarding, and started running competitively after realizing he enjoyed doing 5K fun runs with his family.
Syracuse, where Woodhall grew up, is where he says he met his best friends, and the reason he started running track. The Utah city is also what shaped who he is today, he said. His top spots there: "Sill's Cafe [in Layton] for breakfast, Betos is always a good call for lunch and some killer horchata, and dinner is served best at Mommas."
Woodhall said he was bullied in fifth and sixth grade, and when his middle school friends joined track, he did, too. Never a fan of pity claps and wanting respect, he found his skill between his sophomore and junior years. He represented the U.S. at worlds as a high school sophomore, an experience he said was a bit overwhelming.
After graduating from Syracuse High in 2017, Woodhall attended the University of Arkansas, studying business marketing with a minor in communications and running track.
Two-time Olympic 800m medalist Joaquim Cruz, who won gold in 1984 and silver in 1988, coached him from a young age to college. According to Woodhall, one of Cruz's legs is an inch longer than his other, yet he's still one of fastest 800m runners ever. He said he taught him "don't use anything you're born with as an excuse."
Woodhall's mom and dad are Barb and Steve. He has two brothers, Spencer and Brendan. He has said his parents are arguably the biggest influence in his life, not only athletically but in general.
"Without, them there is no way I would be where I am today," he said, "and chances are I wouldn't even be competing in sports." He said they'd continually turn any "I can't" attitude around to "you can."
Steve was an EOD tech in the Air Force. Woodhall caught the tail end of his time in the service but his family moved around a lot due to the service, hence why he was born in Georgia and moved shortly thereafter.
His family was raised in Montana and most of his extended family still lives there today. Before age 20, including the aforementioned states, he had also lived in California and Texas.
Woodhall has a dog named Milo, who's a mix breed, and his parents have a golden retriever named Duke.
Woodhall's earliest memory of competing was at a track meet called the Utah Summer Games.
"I ran a mile and I was so tired I stopped in the middle, grabbed a drink of water, then continued on my way," he said "I was so scared my dad was going to be disappointed, and it's fair to say it wasn't the brightest moment."
He also has fond memories of being 3 years old for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
"Our whole family went to watch," he said. "I never saw myself completing in sports at such a high level, but it was always so cool to watch the other athletes do it."
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University of Arkansas
Woodhall said the recruiting process was at first slow with letters but no calls. He believes there was some initial hesitancy, as the accolades were there but no offers followed. Finally, interest came from the University of Arkansas.
Coach Doug Case, a 12-year veteran, "took a chance on me and [was] there through my whole college experience," Woodhall said. "I wanted a school who had belief in talent," he said, something the university offered.
Woodhall was the first double amputee to earn an NCAA Division I track scholarship.
He said at first he didn't know a single person – "it was a shot in the dark … was praying it worked." His reception was initially a mix, Woodhall said, but he conveyed a work ethic and as it got clearer things moved along.
In his first two years with the Razorbacks he earned first-team All-American honors indoors and outdoors in the 4x400m relay. In 2019 he ran two personal bests: 46.22 in the 400m at the SEC Outdoor Championships in May, and 21.33 in the 200m in March. And the next season ran on and anchored multiple relays to top finishes.
Woodhall finished as a four-time first-time All-American, something he said validated all the work he put in.
Global Championship Experience
Woodhall claimed two medals at his first Paralympics in Rio. He won the silver in the 200m and bronze in the
400m. His fondest memory from the Games was after the 400m, sharing the time with his family.
Two-time medalist (1 silver, 1 bronze)
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games: silver (200m), bronze (400m)
World Championship Experience
In 2017, Woodhall won two world silver medals in the 200m and 400m. In 2015, his international debut, he claimed the silver medal in the 400m and the bronze in the 200m.
He calls the 2015 World Championships his breakthrough moment, where he was able to compete with the best in the world and gain some confidence for myself.
Years of Participation: 2015, 2017
Medals: 4 (3 silver, 1 bronze)
Silver – 2017 (200m, 400m); 2015 (400m)
Bronze – 2015 (200m)
Woodhall has said he trains for roughly 16-20 hours per week and tries to get eight hours of sleep a night.
When asked in college about his favorite workout, he jokingly said rest days are good. He said his worst workout was 30-by-100m with 30 seconds rest minus 100m time, then 10-by-300m later; and his most grueling was 18-by-200m repeats, although "there have been quite a few … that have made me question my decisions up to this point."
At Arkansas, Woodhall said he believed he was the only Division I athlete competing in the full NCAA season as well as the Paralympics and postseason, and because of that he had to train indoors then transition to outdoor after.
His sprint training for the 100m tends to focus on straight speed, while the 400m is more strategy based and aerobic.
Woodhall's music of choice while training is perhaps counterintuitive: slow, relaxing music.
"My mind does an awesome job at psyching me up," he said. "My problem is usually getting myself to relax. If I listen to any music at all its usually Lewis Capaldi, Sam Smith, Leon Bridges, and many others."
Content Creating, Tara Davis, Life Outside Track
Woodhall is an avid content creator along with girlfriend Tara Davis.
Davis, a jumper and hurdler, competed at Georgia before transferring to Texas, where she'd take down Jackie Joyner's 36-year-old all-time collegiate long jump record this past March at Texas Relays with a 7.14m leap.
The California native was runner-up in the long jump at U.S. Trials and finished sixth at the Tokyo Olympics.
Together the couple shares a YouTube channel entitled "Tara and Hunter," created in November 2017. As of late August 2021 it had about 307,000 subscribers and nearly 42 million views, with seven individual videos over the million-view mark, and its top – "This is how I know she loves me. #shorts" – with 7.5 million over just five months.
Woodhall said he and Davis create videos about life, challenges and normalizing disability. He said their biggest message to convey is that normal life is attainable no matter the case.
Additionally, as of August 2021, Woodhall is worth a follow on TikTok where he describes himself as a "professional toe wiggler and track runner" and has amassed about 2.7 million followers and 93.7 million likes.
He has dozens of videos with more than a million views on the platform, and Davis is featured in many of them.
Outside of running, Woodhall said he loves photography, videography and expressing his creativity, and said if he wasn't an athlete he'd pursue the activities as a full-time profession.
"I love cameras," he said. "I use them nearly every day by myself or with friends. I'm not sure why I love them so much, but I imagine it has something to do with capturing the moment in your own way."
In his free time he likes to hang out with friends and enjoy life, and he also hates spiders.
He has a tattoo of a pair of scissors about his right knee:
"My girlfriend and I lost a bet of sorts and had to get tattoos," he said. "I wanted an easier way to let all the people asking know how I lost my legs. I also don't like when people take things to serious, and this tattoo always makes people a little more comfortable."
When asked who is celebrity crush was, Woodhall said he's already dating her.
Woodhall said running fast feels painful but freeing.
"I remember the first time running with prosthetics," he said. "I had never been able to open up my stride before or feel the win in my face. It was magical."
Hitting top speed always occurs "when relaxed," Woodhall said. "Enjoying is when you perform the best."
He loves the relays, calling them "a melting pot of freak athletes." He said he's messed up in a few – dropping the baton's a "very real fear" – and especially likes the fact everyone's "all in it together."
Woodhall has no rituals the night before a race and keeps things simple, always prioritizing adequate hydration, rest and relaxation. As an extrovert he's naturally excited; he tries to visualize and never take things too seriously.
"I don't like rituals because if anything doesn't go to plan it is easy to throw yourself off," he said. "I just try to drink lots of water and plenty of sleep."
Mid-race feels like he's on autopilot, he said. A pep talk with 150 meters to go typically precedes zoning out everything through 50 meters, and everything blanks out before coming back after the race ends.
"A big theme in track is, 'you don't win a race on race day, you win a race before race day,'" he said. "All the preparation makes the seconds worth it."
Philanthropy and Motivation
Woodhall serves as an ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children and is involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides opportunities and support to people with physical challenges.
"I was connected to Shriners because they amputated my legs and treated me until I moved to college," he said. "I met Bob Babbitt of CAF in my search for colleges and got involved with the organization."
Pre-college coach Cruz, Trenten Merrill, and Jarryd Wallace are among his Paralympic/Olympic role models.
"I've always been told why I wouldn't succeed but it only took a few people telling me they believed in me to turn it all around," he said. "All the negativity has added fuel to my fire, motivating me to push the limits."
Woodhall provided great advice for younger athletes facing similar adversity:
"It doesn’t matter what situation you were born with or what obstacles you’ve overcome in the past. You’re the only one stopping yourself from accomplishing your dreams. Whatever your goals are, the decisions you make now are what set you up for success. So take it one step at a time, because right now in the moment is the only thing we can control. We cannot change the past and we can’t control the future. So take advantage of every moment, and don’t allow excuses to get in the way of your success. No one is born successful, so there is no reason it can't be you."
His belief is that "all people have attainable goals, so don't wait until tomorrow because there's always today," and said despite losing his legs being his biggest obstacle in life it's also become one of his biggest strenghts.
Woodhall has said he used to hate the word inspiration – "everyone was content with just showing up, and I wanted to be seen as a person" – but he said he now sees the importance in the word.
His personal motto: They told me I would never walk, so I learned to run instead.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this report