On a windy December day, Beatriz Hatz braved the cold to change into her royal blue Team USA uniform. Within minutes, she was flying down the track at D’Evelyn Jr./Sr. High School.
This is typical of Beatriz. Nothing — not cold temperatures or naysayers or a below-the-knee amputation — can hold her back. Just look at a photo of Beatriz running or watch her competing in a meet; the pure tenacity is palpable.
“We would all go in after practice, and she would still be out there for an extra half an hour, working to get better,” said Lisa Potter, head track coach and librarian at D’Evelyn.
“When she’s running, it’s just like pure will,” Potter added.
Beatriz, 18, was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect in which part or all of the fibular bone is missing. According to the Paley Orthopedic and Spine Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center, fibular hemimelia is rare and occurs in about 1 of 40,000 births. Part of Beatriz’s leg was amputated when she was 10 months old. During her 18 years, she’s had close to 10 surgeries, including bilateral knee surgery several years ago in which doctors put plates in her knees to help straighten them out.
She’s always been an athlete and has tried a number of sports, including basketball, soccer, skiing and snowboarding. But when she first tried track and field during her freshman year, something clicked. By the end of the year, she was competing in varsity meets. During state qualifiers, she connected with a coach who said she was talented and recommended she look into the Paralympics.
Since 2016, she’s been competing in the Paralympics, quickly moving up from the junior world championships, where she won gold in both the 100- and 200-meter races. Beatriz has traveled the world to compete in places such as Switzerland and Germany, and she’s met a lot of inspirational athletes, including fellow Paralympians Alexa Halko and David Brown.
Of all her accomplishments, though, Beatriz most enjoys high school meets because she gets to prove herself against able-bodied competitors.
When Beatriz is wearing her everyday leg, it’s tough to notice it’s a prosthetic. However, her J-shaped running leg looks much different. It stands out and often causes strange looks, particularly when Beatriz lines up to compete against runners with no apparent physical differences. The weird looks, the underestimation — it all lights a fire in Beatriz.
“I just like proving them wrong,” she said. “I don’t showboat about it. … (But) it just makes me feel good that I represent the disabled community that way.”
More than anything, Beatriz hopes to be an example for others with disabilities, and she appreciates having the platform to do so. She’s had her whole life to get used to navigating the world with one leg, and in many ways, she considers it a blessing.
“For me, growing up I had to deal with (people giving weird looks) when I was little, and I didn’t understand why I was the only different kid. … At first, I was like, ‘Oh, God’s doing this as a punishment.’ But now I think he’s blessing me with it to prove to others that they can do things just as well and just to kind of show that we’re all equal,” she said.
Coaching a runner with a prosthetic leg has been a new experience for Potter, a longtime track coach. But it’s also been remarkable and rewarding to watch Beatriz blossom.
“It was great because she was so open about discussing it and has grown in that area certainly,” Potter said.
Beatriz will graduate from D’Evelyn in May. She plans to attend the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, where she hopes to live at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, a 155-acre training facility for Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
It will be tough to say goodbye to her tight-knit family and her friends, but every time she puts on her prosthetic to run and catches a glimpse of the colorful signatures decorating it, Beatriz will remember where she came from and why she runs.