Beyond Limits: A WHS Graduate’s Remarkable Journey in Wheelchair Racing
“Bold” — that’s how 20-year-old Waukee High School alumnus Evan Correll describes himself. As one of the most decorated Iowa high school track athletes of all time, a top finisher in some of the nation’s most prominent marathons, and a member of Team USA in the 2023 Parapan American Games, “bold” is a fitting word.
Now the wheelchair athlete has his eyes set on an even bigger goal: the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.
“I can’t wait to attempt to make the team and compete my heart out,” he says. “It would definitely be a dream come true.”
Growing Up in Waukee
Evan was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare condition in which his lower body stopped developing in the womb. Although he’s been in a wheelchair his entire life, Evan never let that stop him.
His mom, Shannon, was an advocate for getting accessible playground equipment at Walnut Hills Elementary in the Waukee Community School District when Evan was young. As he grew older, his family supported him as he found a competitive streak in rock climbing, wheelchair basketball, and more. But it wasn’t until Evan started wheelchair racing in seventh grade that it clicked.
“I kind of lost my passion for basketball, but I loved the speed that I’d get while playing,” Evan explains. “Then I found out about track. I got into a racer and fell in love with it immediately.”
Sweeping the Competition
At WHS, Evan was a nine-time high school state champion in track and field, which ties for the fifth-most state titles won by an individual in Iowa’s history. He won the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash in 2018, 2019, and 2021; the 400-meter dash in 2019 and 2021; and the 800-meter dash in 2021. (The state meet was canceled in 2020 due to COVID.)
During his senior year, Evan not only swept the 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m championships, but he also set state records in all four events — records that remain unbroken to this day.
“I love the fact that I set the records, but they’re there to inspire people. They’re not there to be permanent,” Evan says, adding that if someone broke his records, he would “shake their hand and tell them congratulations.”
Balancing Academics and Athletics in College
After graduating from WHS in 2021, Evan enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he joined the track and field team. Since then, he’s spent the past three years traveling around the U.S. and the world for competitions.
Evan races the 100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5K, 10K, 12K, half-marathon, and full-marathon, competing in each event at least once per year. But his favorite is the marathon.
“I feel like all the other events are over too quickly,” Evan says, laughing. “I kind of like when I’m almost killing myself for an hour and a half.”
Evan’s first marathon was Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in 2022. Since then, he has participated in the Chicago Marathon twice, the New York City Marathon twice, the Boston Marathon, and the London Marathon. In each race, he placed in the top 10 in the men’s wheelchair division.
Representing Team USA
Just days after competing in his second New York City Marathon in November, Evan flew to Santiago, Chile, as part of Team USA in the Parapan American Games.
“That was the first time I’ve ever worn ‘USA’ on my chest. I’ve never really represented something like that before,” he explains.
During the games, Evan won a gold medal in the 5000m and a bronze in both the 100m and 400m.
“You see all the best athletes in the world from our country wearing that uniform. To be born with a disability and to have gone through this journey, to know that I’m up there with them? Oh my gosh. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger smile on my face,” Evan says.
Looking Forward: Paris Paralympic Games 2024
As the calendar flipped to 2024, Evan is focused on one thing: The Paris Paralympic Games. Having narrowly missed his opportunity to qualify for the marathon (the top two American finishers at the New York City Marathon qualified for the games; Evan finished third), he is focused on the 100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, and 5000m.
The 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team trials for track and field will be held July 18-21. If Evan makes the team, he will compete in the Paris games from Aug. 28-Sept. 8.
Evan explains the Paralympics are growing in popularity, but still behind the Olympics and other sports in terms of general knowledge, corporate sponsorships, etc. He wants to use his influence to bring attention to the games and be a role model for inspiring athletes.
“Obviously, I want to be the best,” Evan says. “But I don’t just want to be the best at competing. I want to open the door for the next generation.”