Behind his infectious grin and a love for life, Blake Collier leaves St. James High School as a champion and a pioneer.
As I sat down for my interview at SuperFair Delicatessen for my interview with Lisa, Mason and Lauren Collier.
The subject of our meeting, Blake Collier, sat at the head of our table, intermittently taking swigs of his Mountain Dew Red and being greeted with shouts of “Blake!” by bypassing shoppers.
At that moment, you see why people are captivated by Blake Collier.
His infectious smile could thaw the coldest of dispositions, his sense of humor is funny without being mean-spirited, and his story is an inspiring one.
But don’t mistake the jovial infectiousness of Blake Collier, he’s one of the most accomplished athletes in St. James history.
Despite being a wheelchair athlete, Blake has competed at standards that not only supersede his circumstances but command him respect in any competitive arena.
His storied athletic career reached a fitting coda in Mankato - when he left with seven first-place medals and four-second place medals in shot put and discus.
But beyond his accomplishments, Blake Collier has paved the way for those with physical limits but unlimited passionate and ability.
Since he was a kid, Lisa Collier can remember her son has always learned to enjoy life.
“There’s never been a moment where we told me ‘Mom, I want to walk,” she said. “He just keeps that smile on his face and goes with the flow.”
Only at 16 months old, Blake was stricken with a rare disease - acute disseminated encephalomyelitis or ADEM.
ADEM is characterized by a brief, yet intense attack of inflammation and swelling in the brain and spinal cord which damages myelin, the protective sheath that forms around nerves.
ADEM affects 1 in every 125,000 to 250,000 individuals in any given year — and rarely appears in infants, making Blake’s case unusual.
Throughout Blake’s childhood, the Colliers struggled to find avenues for Blake to allow him to participate in activities.
Along came Dreamcatchers, which was started by the Colliers, to provide kids with disabilities ages K-12 an opportunity to play baseball in a recreational and loose environment.
“Around here there wasn’t much that could assist Blake in terms of accessibility, so we ended up starting Dreamcatchers, which also allowed other Minnesota students with disabilities to participate in sports until the program ceased."
However, 2011 would be a much-needed change for Minnesota’s disabled youth looking for a way to participate.
In 2011, Minnesota State High School League would finally open its doors by creating a wheelchair division.
Through the guidance and urging from Saints Track and Field coach Lee Carlson, Collier became the first track and field wheelchair athlete in Minnesota.’
“We just so grateful for Lee and for his commitment to coaching and mentoring Blake,” said Lisa Collier.
In his early years of competing, Blake won first-place by virtue of being the only competitor - and when the landscape expanded and more competed - Blake proved his worth.
Blake’s performances in his junior and senior year proved to those that watched that he wasn’t just a great wheelchair athlete, but that he was a great athlete in the purest form of the word.
According to Mile Split MN, Blake’s PR’s in Discus Wheelchair (22-2), Discus (23-1), Shot Put (13-6.5) and Shot Put Wheelchair (14-4).
Blake has acquired over 50 medals in his track and field career, 46 are first-place honors, with no medal lower than second-place.
His impact isn't limited to just his community, but it has extended younger wheelchair athletes in the state.
Lisa recalled that at Blake's last meet, a younger kid sat in his wheelchair, filled with awe watching Blake and other adaptive athletes compete, she knew that her son had a made far-reaching impact.
"It's the best feeling as a parent," she said. "How he manages to stay humble and genuinely regarding everything he's gone through and accomplished, it's inspiring.
Although to Blake, it’s not about the medals, the numerous accolades, or even perhaps his place as a pioneer for athletes of his ilk - it's about enjoying the best of life.
It’s about the exchanges he has with the community.
It's about competing and representing his school with pride at States.
The texts and well-wishes he got on the bus ride back from States.
The inside jokes he has with his plethora of friends and family in town.
For Blake, it's about making the best of what life has to offer.
And whether it’s the end of a checkout line at SuperFair or the greens of the throwing pit, Blake Collier will always manage to make the best of life.