Simon Detmer ’22 has always had to advocate for himself so he knew stepping into a role as a college student-athlete with cerebral palsy would be no different. 

“When I came to Calvin, I was quite surprised and blessed to find that people were much more receptive than I expected,” Detmer says, “because my other experiences have taught me that many people are resistant to change.” 

Detmer came to Calvin because he was looking for a university that would allow an athlete with a disability to train and compete on its teams. 

“I met with then head cross country coach Brian Diemer who said to me, ‘Simon, if you come here, we’re going to do incredible things. We’re going to fully integrate you into the team.’ 

“After meeting with him and [assistant cross country and track and field] Coach Rick Otte, it was a clear sign that I would be headed to Calvin,” Detmer says. 

As a three-sport athlete in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field, Detmer quickly made his mark. He qualified for]the Junior World Team in para track and field; broke the U.S. national record in the 800 meters in his classification group, T-37; and twice was named MIAA Athlete of the Week. Most recently he competed in the 2023 Parapan American Games, along with former Calvin student Matthew Paintin. 

While success on the track continues to be a goal for Detmer, his greater aspiration is to be a voice for people with disabilities. 

“I see a future where people with disabilities can come in and be encouraged in all of their experiences at Calvin,” he says, “where they can find friends without being judged. 

“America is behind in its thinking about disability,” adds Detmer. “There needs to be a paradigm shift in social culture.” 

To help facilitate that change at Calvin, Detmer partnered with the president’s office as a research assistant last year.

“I am passionate about ways that Calvin can be more inclusive, especially in terms of our mission to be agents of renewal,” says Detmer. “I believe we have a responsibility to be more hospitable.” 

Some specific outcomes of Detmer’s work include the initiation of a new student organization called the Disability Inclusion Project; a seminar for professors on how to make classes more hospitable; a review of Calvin’s ADA compliance, including some changes at the dining halls and other places on campus; and an exploration of opportunities at Calvin for adaptive sports. 

“As part of my vision, I see an area where we can all come together, and that is through intramural clubs of adaptive sports where people with and without disabilities can compete together,” Detmer says. “I see sports like wheelchair tennis or wheelchair basketball, where people without disabilities can get in a wheelchair and compete with people with disabilities. These united events are where I see social change being integrated actively into the student environment.” 

While challenging the Calvin community to be innovative thinkers and leaders in this cultural shift is Detmer’s top goal, he also continues to physically test himself as an athlete. After the elimination of the 800 meters as an official event in track and field, Detmer’s top event became the long jump. He is currently training for the 2024 Para Athletics World Championships to be held in Kobe, Japan, this coming May, and for the Paralympic Games to be held in Paris later this summer. 

“It is a very packed and challenging training schedule,” Detmer says. “In order to qualify, I need to break the national record by 0.4 meters, and I’m not quite there yet.” 

His former Calvin coach Rick Otte has already seen Detmer challenge himself and achieve great things on and off the track. “Simon is not one-dimensional at all, and in every one of his dimensions he incorporates his love for and belief in Christ. He has been successful because he is so humble and because he is passionate. He is very persistent once his passion kicks in, which is why he gets things done.”