Runnin' Down a Dream

An Ocala sprinter hopes to represent Team USA in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this August.

Marshall Zakery wearing a USA track jersey and a tied pair of track cleats around his neck.

Sports have always been a big part of Marshall Zackery’s life. The 27-year-old has fond memories of growing in up in northwest Ocala: running around the neighborhood, playing basketball games at the end of the street and football games in the field next to the church. Although Zackery suffered a traumatic brain injury at just two months old, the resulting partial vision loss and cerebral palsy never slowed him down.

“When I was little, I used to run through the neighborhood. They never played me like I had a disability,” he says of the other kids. “I always had to play like them if I wanted to play with everybody. I’ve always been fast, but I never took it seriously until I got to high school and played organized sports.”

On Track

In high school, Zackery’s path separated from his neighborhood friends. His mother, Marsha Carpenter, made a difficult but important choice for her middle child: She enrolled him in the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) in St. Augustine.

“It was hard for me, and every Sunday I had to pack him up and let him go off on the bus,” Carpenter recalls. “But I realized that it was more important for him to get what he needed in terms of the resources available to make it an even playing field for him. And I think that made him more well-rounded, more independent and certainly to be able to problem solve and be able to adapt.”

Zackery quickly and easily made friends at FSDB, joining the basketball team his first year.

“My mom says I’m a social butterfly, but really I’m not,” he says with a smile. “I played basketball and it got me exposure to everybody. I would get on the basketball court; that’s where everybody could find me.”

Besides his natural speed and agility, Zackery stood out on FSDB’s basketball team for a surprising reason.

“I played basketball with all deaf kids,” he says. “The deaf side of the school was bigger than the blind side of the school, and that’s where all the sports were. So, I learned sign language.”

When that first basketball season ended, Zackery’s coach encouraged the players to find a way to stay in shape during the off season. A lot of his friends ran track, so Zackery tried out for the team.

“I didn’t make the track team my freshman year,” he admits. “I didn’t really run as hard as I could have. But I’m competitive—when they said I’m not good enough to make the track team, it was more of a personal thing then. So, my sophomore year I made it, my junior I made it and then my senior year I made it. I went to regionals my senior year for track. But I always hated track in high school.”

Photography by Dave Miller