Local Paralympian gearing up for London Games

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- When he was young, track and field was not at all appealing to Erik Hightower. Today, he's a Paralympian with two U.S. records to his name.

Hightower, who was born with Spina Bifida and has spent his life in a wheelchair, will compete to qualify for his third Paralympic Games next month. He competed in 2008 and 2010, and holds the U.S. records for the 100-meter and 200-meter events.

Spina Bifida is a birth defect "involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings," according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It generally occurs in the first month of pregnancy, which is when a fetus's spine should close. In babies born with Spina Bifida, like Hightower, that closure doesn't happen.

The result is permanent nerve damage and some degree of paralysis in the legs.

Wheelchair racing since 1995, Hightower is now one of the top athletes in the world in his racing class. And to think he used to hate it.

"Thank God my parents didn't let me give up on it because I absolutely love it now," Hightower told 3TV's Scott Pasmore Wednesday morning.

At the 2012 Para Pan American Games, Hightower came home with the gold in the 100-meter, silver in the 200-meter and bronze in the 400-meter.

Hightower will be taking part the Desert Challenge Track Meet at Red Mountain High School in Mesa on Saturday. After that, the US Paralympic National Championships Track Meet is June 12 in Indianapolis.

To learn more about Hightower and his racing, visit Gimp4LifeRacing.com.

The Paralympic Games are Aug. 29-Sept. 9 in London.