Freshman Milena Sobie becomes Streetsboro’s first seated competitor

Differently-abled cheerleader, initially laughed at Coach Robb Kidd & said, ‘I don’t run, especially on purpose’

Freshman Milena Sobie prepares to compete in her first track meet April 6 at home, making history as Streetsboro's first seated runner.

Photo by Pauline Dierkens

Freshman Milena Sobie prepares to compete in her first track meet April 6 at home, making history as Streetsboro’s first seated runner.

By Ella Kassan, Streetsboro High School

Freshman Milena Sobie has become the first-ever seated athlete in Streetsboro track history to be competing with fellow female wheelchair racers as well as runners.

She is setting the bar — as well as school records — high for any differently-abled person interested in following in her footsteps.

Sobie, who has spina bifida, has managed her birth defect with numerous surgeries. She moves well enough to walk with just a slight limp, and is also a Rocket JV cheerleader.

Now this spring, she is adding “track athlete” to her resume.

‘’It is so scary, but it is so exciting at the same time because no one has ever done it,” Sobie said of competing in her chair, which resembles a go cart or bike. “I am overall so excited and everyone is so supportive, and it is so fun, too.”

Head Coach Robb Kidd said he has had a vision to bring wheelchair racing to Streetsboro for a while.

“I have been a coach for a long time, getting a chance to work with all kinds of great kids in basically every event, but never had the opportunity to work with any seated athletes,” Kidd said.

When he approached Sobie about racing, he knew this would be a chance to start a Streetsboro legacy.

“This year I noticed a young lady walking with some sort of different stride so I approached her and asked her some questions about her physical situation. Then I asked her if she ever thought about running track,” Kidd said. “I’m not sure what she thought at that moment but she is a confident person and showed curiosity and interest so we began the process at that point together.”

Sobie did not take him seriously at first.

“It is actually pretty funny,” she recalled. “I was in intervention and Mr. Kidd came up to me, and said, ‘It looks like you can be a really good runner, your leg looks so strong.’ I just looked at him and laughed at him. I thought that was the funniest thing to say to a disabled person. I was like, ‘Nope that is not going to happen, I am not doing track, and then he was like, ‘Why not?’ I don’t run, especially not on purpose. Then he says, ‘What if you don’t have to run?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’”

Running is running, but it is not every day you get to see someone compete in a hot pink bike.”

— Freshman Milena Sobie

Once Kidd explained to her what she could do as a seated athlete, Sobie bought into the idea and was eager to start her training.

“I was really excited,” she said. “Before I even started racing, I was in the weight room while everyone else was running outside.”

With this determination, Kidd was ready to help Sobie get started. Yet Kidd was not the only person to help the freshman prepare for her season. Jenna Fesemyer, a former wheelchair racer at Southeast High School (and niece of former Streetsboro track coach and teacher, Tom Fesemyer) was a great deal of help along the way.

“I was really honored when I was asked to help Milena get started in wheelchair racing,” said Fesemyer, who Kidd said drove eight hours one weekend to drop off the bike. “I’ve always believed in the importance of taking what I’ve learned in the sport and passing it on, and Milena has been really receptive and eager to learn, so it has been the perfect combination!”

Participating in track is a completely different experience for Sobie than cheerleading.

“In cheer, there are a lot of things I can’t do,” she said. “I try my best in cheer, there are a couple things I can’t do…there are definitely restrictions. But in track, there is nothing I can’t do. It is like a sport literally made for me, and in cheer I am going up against people who can actually do things that I can’t. But in wheelchair racing, I am going up against myself.”

As Sobie’s first race drew closer, Kidd and Fesemyer had important advice for her.

“You can do absolutely anything you put your mind to,” Fesemyer told her. “Be confident and strong, but never forget to smile in the process as well.”

Kidd added, “Know that you can do it; don’t let fear limit you.”

Freshman Milena Sobie races in the first home track meet April 6 versus Ravenna and Cloverleaf. She competed in three races at this meet. (Photo by Ali Madden)

Sobie definitely did not let fear intimate her, as she finished first in the 100m in the Rockets’ first track meet, held at home April 6. She also completed the 400M and 200M events.

“Her first race was the 100M against a senior seated athlete from Cloverleaf,” Kidd explained. “The other student took a good-sized lead early but Milena fought back aggressively and by the end of the 100M race, Milena was able to pass her and claim her first victory ever.”

“I definitely think I could have done better, but it was an awesome experience and the whole night made me so happy I could cry,” Sobie recalled.

Sobie was not the only one getting emotional that night of the first meet. Physical education teacher Krista Romance was one of many who felt empowered by Sobie’s perseverance.

“I had tears of joy in my eyes when she finished that race because she is just such an amazing person and I am so incredibly proud of her,” Romance said.

“It was an amazing event to witness, very encouraging and inspiring,” Kidd agreed. “She showed her determination, athleticism and work ethic. Her performance couldn’t have gone better. We were so proud of her and look forward to what is to come.”

Sobie inspired many that night, including her teammates, coaches, teachers, as well as athletes, coaches and fans from the other competing schools. People from Ravenna and Cloverleaf alike cheered her on throughout each race.

I hope Milena inspires others to find ways to compete, grow as people and thrive regardless of any obstacle. Milena will rewrite our record board as well since this is an unprecedented series of events. This is hopefully the first in what could be an amazing opportunity for others.””

— Head Coach Robb Kidd

One of the Rocket athletes inspired by Sobie is freshman Mario Puelo, who also competed Tuesday, and is also Sobie’s boyfriend.

“The whole thing was surreal throughout the entire time she was competing,” he said “She brought such a positive energy to the meet that it was difficult not to feel the same way.

Madelyn Hajec, a teammate and friend of Sobie’s, also shared a sense of motivation as she saw Sobie compete.

“She’s showing that anything is possible and she is such a hard worker and won’t stop trying,” Hajec said.

Sobie has not only made a name for herself and the school, but she has also created a sense of pride and perseverance throughout the whole district.

Romance said, “She should make everyone proud to be a Rocket.”

This story was originally published on The Orbiter on April 20, 2021.