Rayven Sample running down the track
Photo: Emily Paine
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Rayven Sample ’24 has high hopes to compete at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials this summer.
Full Speed Ahead

A FLAT OVAL is where Rayven Sample ’24 feels most at home. When racing, he’s fueled by the support of those around him and an unwavering determination to fulfill promises he’s made.

These are the invisible forces pulling him through each turn and straightaway of a 400-meter race.

And it’s what gives him momentum off the track, where each step builds on the one before. Rather than stopping to daydream about reaching the Paralympic Games this August in Tokyo, Sample keeps accelerating toward the next track meet with his Bucknell teammates.

If all goes well, Sample’s success will snowball — from training inside Gerhard Fieldhouse to Patriot League competition at the Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium this spring to the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, scheduled for June 17–20 in Minneapolis.

“I’m a very week-by-week person,” he says. “That’s just the way I focus my life. I’m really just along for the ride and accepting whatever comes — and, of course, working as hard as I can to make sure the things I want to do come true.”

For this psychology and education double major from Jamestown, N.Y., it’s an uphill journey that has rarely been smooth.

In a 2019 article for MileSplit New York, which ranks high school track athletes in the Empire State, the writer called Sample’s story “a tale that is simply incredible regardless of what circumstances are attached to its telling.”

Those “circumstances” include arthrogryposis, an incurable joint condition that has from birth left Sample with little motion in his hands and wrists.

Sample’s grandparents raised him since he was 4 months old and later adopted him. His mom wasn’t in the picture, and his dad died when he was 9.

His grandparents, whom he calls Mom and Dad, took him to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Erie, Pa., for surgeries. They helped him fight through physical therapy and cheered each victory on the track.

“They were willing to do whatever it took to make sure that I had the best life possible,” he says. “They were very gracious to raise me.”

In June 2020, the same week as his high school graduation, Sample learned that his grandmother had stage 4 lung cancer. She watched a livestream of the ceremony from her hospital bed.

A month later, a doctor told Sample’s grandmother that, with treatment, she could live another one or two years. Sample was hopeful.

“In one year, I’ll be across the world,” he remembers saying at the time. “I want her to see me win gold at least once in her life.”

But her condition quickly deteriorated. On Aug. 12, 2020, Sample’s grandmother — his biggest fan — died at her home in Jamestown, N.Y. She was 62.

Sample was at her bedside when she died at 7 a.m. that day. At 8 a.m., he made the four-hour drive to Bucknell for move-in day.

“We all knew that she wanted me to go,” he says. “I knew I had to go. I had to stand up even higher and stronger. I had to get things done at Bucknell so I could complete the promise I made to her.”

Instant Replay
Greatest career highlight
With teammates, winning the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division II title in the 4×400-meter relay
Feeling Supported After Losing His Grandmother
“So many people at Bucknell, whether they knew it or not, were so instrumental in helping that initial healing process.”
Starting His Track Career in Relays
“That’s where I started finding success. You have three other people, and you’re not able to let them down at all.”
Working With Associate Head Coach Richard Alexander ’03
“I’ve always had the mindset that to be a good athlete, you have to have a great coach.”