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Menlo Park teen takes on London Paralympics
August 30, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Joe Wise

Menlo Park’s Joe Wise will take to the water today in the first of five events the 19-year-old will compete in during the Paralympic Games in London.

For his mom, Marie Wise, just being there is a victory for her son and the family. At 9 years old, Joe Wise was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, a severe muscular disorder that affects his legs, hips, core muscles and lungs. He wasn’t supposed to live to see the age of 15. Yet, this week marks his second trip to the international athletic competition. His goal was to be able to compete in five events this time around. His mom sees it differently.

"We won; he’s there,” she said Tuesday just before getting on a flight to London.

Joe Wise was a swimmer prior to his diagnosis. His passion, however, was baseball. It was while playing baseball that his parents noticed Joe Wise was running funny. The family took him to the doctor. It took about six months and many incorrect diagnoses before the family was given the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. It actually resulted in the doctors testing Joe’s younger brother who also has the muscular disorder.  

While the diagnosis was devastating, Marie Wise said the family made a choice to make their boys’ lives as normal as possible. Running was out but swimming could still work. Joe Wise also has asthma, which is actually why his mom originally pushed him into the sport. She had learned many Olympic swimmers had asthma but that the steam from the pool helped. Despite not always enjoying the sport, Joe Wise was fast from a young age, his mom recalled. After watching another local swimmer compete in Olympic trials, Joe Wise was excited about the sport.

While a student at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton, Wise got his chance to compete in the Beijing Paralympic Games, an international multi-sport event where athletes with a physical disability compete. The games are held immediately after the Olympic Games. He was 15, the youngest swimmer there, at the time and placed fifth in the 400-meter freestyle.

Just getting there in the first place was a challenge. As a result of the disorder, Joe Wise uses a ventilator twice a day — at night when he sleeps and during the day when he naps. Marie Wise attributes the help from everyone who has supported her son and family as getting him this far. Doctors, coaches, family members and schools have all played a part, she said.

Joe Wise is a sophomore at Loyola University in Maryland this year studying political science and communication with a hope of becoming a disability rights lawyer. Training was particularly difficult for the 2012 games as Joe Wise was struggling with his diagnosis earlier this year. With the support of so many, Marie Wise is just happy to see her son compete. And she certainly will have a chance to see him in lots of events. Joe Wise will compete in the 200 individual medley, 400 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly this year starting today and running through Sept. 6.

"He’s outlived his expected life. He has amazing focus and courage,” said Marie Wise.

For more information about mitochondrial disease visit For more information about the London 2012 Paralympics visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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