Deja Young may be training hard to defend her Paralympic titles in the 100 and 200 meter sprints, but she has a more important priority taking precedence off the track.
Young, 24, wants to share her story in hopes of helping people struggling with mental health issues, and specifically depression.
The Paralympic runner’s own bout with depression goes back to college, but she has been overcoming challenges since the day she was born. Young was injured at birth when her shoulder got stuck on her mom's pelvic bone.
“The doctor pulled on my head too hard and tore all the nerves in my neck and shoulder and went without telling my parents, so I didn't get diagnosed until 6 months later," said Young.
The official diagnosis is something called Brachial Plexus. The nerve damage through Young's arm and shoulder was first identified by her parents when she couldn't crawl.
She still has the scars from the surgeries, including one she incorporated into a tattoo. The scar is the laser beam between an alien (which she said represents her) and a space ship.
"I've always felt like I was alienated because of my arm, always felt like no one really accepted me and it was an elephant in the room" said Young.
Young says that growing up, her parents tried to teach her that she didn’t have a disability.
"I didn't even realize I had a disability until I started getting picked on. I was like ‘is there something wrong with me?’, and my parents were like ‘absolutely not, don't say that’."
While Deja's arm attracted some attention, her legs got more of it.
She turned her natural talent into a track scholarship at Wichita State. While in college, she perfected her mechanics and started dominating sprints, but it’s also where she had to face an even bigger challenge: depression.
In 2016 while preparing for her first Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Young tried to end her life.
"I was really isolated at that time, very heavily depressed and it was a hard time for me," said Young.
Young is very open about her mental health struggles, feeling like it's her calling to help others who've been isolated. She invites anyone, even strangers, to direct message her on social media to talk about mental health.
"It's a very loud world and sometimes your voice gets drowned out by so many different things and you need to be re-centered sometimes by hearing you're enough and you are heard," she said.
After spending the bulk of her time since the last Paralympics at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, Young said shefeels a special connection to San Diego.
She has since moved out of state, but continues to train with the goal of qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics.
If she makes Team USA, she'll race against other women dealing with some kind of arm injury or deficiency.
Young says it was a great feeling to step onto the podium in 2016 as a gold medalist, but her new platform would make these Paralympics even sweeter.
She now carries an important message wherever she goes:
"You can persevere" said Young.
The Paralympics are set to begin on Aug. 24, about 2 weeks after the Olympics finish up in Tokyo.
If you are struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and suicide prevention resources for you or your loved ones. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers help, too.