AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week He grouped Hannes Prescher, who moved to the area from New York in July, with Oak Park’s slowest runners for that opening jog. His training partners’ deliberate pace quickly frustrated Prescher, who kept running after his teammates headed home in order to get a suitable workout. Smith was about to notify park rangers of his runner’s disappearance when he spotted Prescher. “When I saw him walk toward me (before practice) with that tilted gait, up on his toes, I quickly assessed him as any coach would,” said Smith, whose team is ranked sixth in Southern Section Div. III. “I quickly had to reassess him.” Prescher finished 47th of 162 runners at the season-opening Seaside Invitational senior boys’ race, posting Oak Park’s seventh-best time. He was 11th overall, and sixth on the team, at last month’s Oak Park Invitational. Prescher’s knees are webbed. The extra skin keeps them permanently bent at about a 25-degree angle. Scars from two operations on each leg peek out from under his socks. OAK PARK – Hannes Prescher describes himself as a straight-A student and strong athlete who runs for one of the area’s best prep cross country teams. The Oak Park High senior knows others don’t always see those qualities first. They see the birth defects on his legs and face that have forced him to undergo repeated operations. “It’s just because of his legs that no one expects him to run fast …,” says his mother, Doerte Prescher, “but he’s just a strong athlete, so it comes easily to him.” Oak Park head coach Kevin Smith was sent on a frantic, hour-long search for making that common mistake at the team’s first practice this summer. The bend in his legs lifts his heels off the ground, forcing him to walk, and run, on the balls of his feet. Running actually keeps his legs from becoming more bent, though that’s not why he does it. He’s also had several surgeries to correct a cleft palate that slightly affects his speech. Although Prescher’s legs look different, the muscles and bones have developed normally. “People underestimate me all the time,” Prescher said. “In a way, it bothers me, of course, because they judge me. On the other hand, I can laugh when I prove them wrong.” Prescher ran one of his best high-school races after a competitor shook everyone’s hand but his before the start; he used the slight as inspiration. In eighth grade, his first year of competitive running, he broke his middle school’s 3,000-meter record. His mother had tried to dissuade him from pursuing the goal, afraid he was setting himself up for frustration. Prescher, who also will play soccer and run track for Oak Park, defers questions about his birth defects to his parents. He never bothered to learn the details. “I have so many other strengths and skills that other people don’t have that kind of compensate for whatever disabilities I may have,” he said. “I never looked at myself as different than anyone else.” Prescher has never received a grade below A in high school, despite taking a course load that includes five Advanced Placement classes this semester. In New York – he lived in Suffolk County on Long Island – Prescher was a member of a county-champion cross country team and a starter on his club soccer team. His Oak Park teammates were unaware of that, of course, when they met him. Like Smith, they were surprised by his speed. He’s quickly become one of the team’s most popular members. He received the loudest cheers at the Oak Park Invitational when he chased down an opposing runner in the final 100 yards. About 40 members of the Eagles’ junior-varsity team lined up to high-five him after the race. “He’s always positive and really fun to be around,” Oak Park teammate Anthony Pondella said. “He’s an amazing athlete. He’s pretty much an inspiration to the team.” Sean Martin, (818) 713-3607 email@example.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!