BYRD'S TRENT WELLS RUNS AWAY FROM FIELD IN D&H RELAYS 1600m
The world can be a beautiful and wonderful place, but-at times- it can also be cruel and hateful.
Being the parent of an autistic student-athlete, Edward and Lea Wells have lived both sides watching their son, Trent, who is nothing short of a star distance runner, and a senior, at C.E. Byrd High School.
The Wells Family have come across numerous people who have helped them, and people who have helped Trent, but this article, while it will make mention of some, is not about those who have helped. On World Autism Day, the Wells Family and their journey is the focus.
Life was cruel for the Wells Family in Montgomery, Alabama, when daycare workers complained about Trent. They complained to Mr. and Mrs. Wells that their son was a troublemaker. They complained about his tantrums. The parents, who just wanted their preschool-aged son to be cared for properly, were frustrated too and had no idea what to do. They knew their son wasn't a troublemaker like the daycare workers said. They knew he had a good heart.
C.E. BYRD'S TRENT WELL AND HIS COACH, JUAN PLAZA TALK ABOUT HIS INDOOR MEET
When the Wells Family moved to Ohio, It seemed like it would be more of the same on Trent's first day of first grade. Mrs. Linda Barr, their son's first grade teacher, called and asked Mr. Wells if Trent had ever been tested for Autism.
Edward Wells, normally a quiet, mild-mannered man, was not happy.
"If I'm being honest, initially I was a little upset because I felt it was accusatory, due to the issues we had with the caregivers in Montgomery, AL," Edward Wells said about the question he received from his son's first-grade teacher. "I was also offended because, in my eyes, my son was perfect and he didn't need any extra help. I was reluctant, but eventually I agreed to have him tested for autism."'
Trent's mother, Lea, had noticed her son was not like other children. Instead of enjoying a park, Trent was fascinated with the bark on the trees. Instead of racing cars, he would take the cars and make letters or numbers out of them. Around water, he didn't want to swim. All he wanted to do was run his arm across the top of the water and watch to see how the motion of his arm would make waves in the water.
In the days before the doctors diagnosed Trent with autism, it was a very emotional and lonely time for Lea Wells. Lonely in sense that nobody seemed to listen.
"They wrote Trent off as being a boy who developed slower than girls," Lea Wells said.
In 2012, Lea deployed to Qatar. Edward Wells looked for something to keep his kids busy to keep their mind off their mother's deployment. He found a YMCA soccer team in Dayton.
Soccer moms told Edward Wells how good his daughter, Laila, who is one year younger than Trent, was. They said nothing of his son, who could often be found playing goalie and laughing hysterically at the opponents inability to stop the team's star player.
LOUISIANA'S TOP 3200 METER RUNNERS
Encouraged by the comments from the soccer moms, Edward Wells signed his daughter up for track and field. Trent came to practices, just along for the ride.
Laila's track coach noticed the brother, who was standing around while the team was practicing.
"Mr. Wells, why don't you let Trent participate in practice since he is out here anyway?," the track coach asked.
Initially, Mr. Wells told the coach "no." Then he thought better of his decision and decided to ask Trent.
Trent said no.
Then Mr. Wells made his son a deal.
"Trent, just run in a few practices and do one meet. After that, you don't have to run anymore."
Then Trent Wells would make a decision which would change the trajectory of his life. Trent said "yes" to running.
For most parents of star athletes, their memories of their child's first experience in sports are happy memories- not for Edward Wells.
He remembers the other kids whispering and laughing at Trent as he attempted the drills. They laughed at his "intensity" during runs.
"HOSS" GARRETT BOYS 3200 METERS
He almost pulled his son out of track and field to protect him from the ridicule, but he didn't.
Nothing about Trent Wells' first race, a 5K in Dayton, Ohio on September 2, 2014, gave Edward Wells any indication that his son was headed toward school records and a full scholarship to college, but the father was impressed all the same.
For starters, he was impressed that Trent finished the race-29 minutes, and 33 seconds. He was also impressed that his son finished third in his age group.
Despite the offer to his son to just run one race, there was no mention after the race of the "one race" deal. Trent Wells continued running. It was only years later that Wells would remind his father of "tricking him" into running.
Seven months later, during Autism Awareness Month, Trent Wells ran his first outdoor track and field race. It was a 1600m. Wells won with a time of 6:15.28.
"His times got faster with every race," Wells said of his son.
He ended the 2015 outdoor track season at the USATF Junior Olympics in Jacksonville, Florida. He ran the 1500 in a time of 5:22.03.
Not only did Wells earn the respect of coaches with his work ethic and times, Trent Wells earned the respect of his teammates, especially the ones who had mocked and ridiculed him at his first practice sessions.
In 2016, Trent just kept running, and racing, and dropping time. That season ended in Humble, Texas as the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics where Trent finished No. 13 in the nation in the 800 meters.
Shortly after, the family moved once again. This time to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Lea was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base.
Edward Wells reached out to AAU track & field officials in Louisiana. They pointed him toward Juan Plaza, who was the founder and coach of the River Cities Track Club.
"The man,the myth, the legend," Edward Wells says, referring to the coach who made his son's transition from Ohio to North Louisiana seemless.
"With Trent's "transition issues" in the past, meeting Coach Plaza was such a timely blessing for us," Edward Wells said.
"It's a super power. Not a weakness."
C.E. Byrd's Trent Wells on his autism
Trent Wells met some amazing staff members at Youree Drive Middle School, but, unfortunately, he ran into some typical middle school bullying behavior students with autism often face. For Trent, it was a student taking the pencil off of his desk and not giving it back-forcing him to turn in incomplete work at the end of class.
Undeterred,Trent continued running. He continued racing. He continued improving,
Wells' middle school track and field resume' includes the following; River Cities Track Club record holder in the 800M (2:10.13) and 1500M (4:33.45) for 13-14 boys, 2017 middle school Louisiana Cross CountryState Champion, 2018 City Champ in both 800m and 1600m, Caddo Parish middle school record holder in the 1600M (4:57.03). NWLA Middle School Meet of Champions 1600m winner (4:50)and meet MVP.
Wells carried the resume to C.E. Byrd where his coach, Juan Plaza, and teammates were familiar with his success, but not the upperclassmen in the cafeteria, who mocked Wells when he would smile and wave at them on his way out, and then laugh behind his back as Wells turned to walk away.
If it wasn't the upperclassmen in the cafeteria, it would be a classmate-or classmates, who would take his lunch off his desk when he got up from his seat, leaving Wells without anything to eat for lunch.
Trent's younger sister, Laila Wells, was fiercely protective of her older brother. Although at first, she felt like Trent was getting all of the attention due to his diagnosis, that changed as she matured. She would become a protector, even confronting a bully who she caught being mean to her brother.
For the most part, this took place his freshmen year before the perpetrators realized that they were messing with one of the best distance runners in school history.
The "jocks" who mocked Wells in the cafeteria at lunch? They are in college, participating in intramural sports and wracking up thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
The autistic student-athlete they laughed at signed a letter of intent with Savannah College of Art & Design. The ceremony took place in front of friends and family on the Byrd track on Trent Wells' 18th birthday.
At the high school level, Wells has continued to improve. He is not only one of the school's best, he is one the best in Louisiana.
Wells holds the 800m for (2:00.62) and 1500m (4:15.78) for River Cities TC 15-16 boys. He also holds the Byrd indoor and outdoor school records in the 3200m.
Wells' impact at The City of Byrd has not been limited to the record book. For those students and teachers who have taken the time to get to know him, Wells has earned a spot in their hearts.
When Byrd senior pole vaulter Kate Schwab was asked to recall her favorite Byrd track and field memory for her senior recognition, she didn't mention a meet she did well at or a funny time on the school bus. She mentioned the Region I-5A meet when her and her teammates raced across the field to congratulate Trent Wells on yet another amazing performance.
After a tremendous 2022 indoor campaign earlier this year, Wells' bell lap of his high school career has hit a bit of a snag with the injury bug preventing him from participating in the prestigious Texas Relays last week.
"Trent is an overcomer in every sense of the word," Edward Wells said. "It's hard to describe him in only one word but 'resilience' comes to mind. Most importantly, he knows himself and he's comfortable with who he is. I've watched him grow from the awkward kid at practice, that other kids laugh at...to one of the best in the state. I couldn't be more proud of him."
What does Trent Wells say about his autism?
"It's a super power, not a weakness," Trent Wells said.
He may be on to something.
Wells returned to action on Friday at the "Hoss" Garrett Relays. Coming off an injury, Coach Plaza told him to take it easy. Wells ran a personal record 9:43.34.
"Keep going," Trent Wells said. "Don't think. Just do it."
Sound advice for athletes, and sound advice for treating all people with exceptionalities with dignity, respect, and love.