Allin Arcadia562 39 Scaled
Long Beach Poly Track & Field

FEATURE: Long Beach Poly’s Gabe Tyler Walks Special Championship Journey

The562’s coverage of cross country and track and field is sponsored by Bryson Financial.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.

Photos by John Napalan, Art O’Neill, and Thomas Cordova

A decade ago, Gabe Tyler sat in the stands at the Arcadia Invitational, watching the meet director hang another gold medal around his big sister’s neck. She collected a lot of them: Ariana Washington was a six-time California state champion in the 100/200 and became the first freshman to double in the 100 and 200 at the NCAA Finals before going on to win a world title and become an Olympian.

Like a lot of little siblings in the stands that day, watching their seemingly superheroic older brothers and sisters, Gabe dreamed of growing up to accomplish great things. That dream was an unremarkable one. When your sister, eight years older than you, is heralded as “The Fastest Teenager in the World,” it’s natural to want to follow in her footsteps.

What’s remarkable about Gabe’s journey isn’t where he wanted to go, it’s how he had to get there. Gabe has cerebral palsy, and it’s taken three surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy just to allow him to stand upright. Standing on his own two feet wasn’t enough, though. The Long Beach Poly senior has gone on to become a successful para-ambulatory athlete, and last weekend he claimed his third para-ambulatory title at the Arcadia Invitational, posing with his gold medal in front of a banner bearing his sister’s picture.

“The more I got to watch Ari run the more I knew this is what I wanted to do, too,” he said. “I want to carry on what she did–I want to do everything she did while she was here.”

Gabe posing with a banner picture of his sister at the Arcadia Invitational. Photo by Crystal Irving


Gabe was born just 29 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy, and weighed less than three pounds. He required a two-month NICU stay before he could come home, with several blood transfusions and what felt like endless tests to his mother, Euna Washington. A longtime Long Beach Memorial Hospital emergency room nurse, Euna knew how serious her son’s situation was.

“They told me he’s going to be very sick, and he might die,” she said. “When he was born, he didn’t even look like a baby. He had all these tubes in him, and you couldn’t even see that he was a child.” 

By the time Gabe was able to go home with his mother and meet his big sister for the first time, he’d already overcome more than most people will have to face down in a lifetime. He initially failed a vision test, and doctors told Euna he’d be blind for the rest of his life. He recovered his vision, and made it out of the NICU–but Euna knew he had more challenges ahead.

“He was stiff, so I knew there was something wrong, but they don’t actually diagnose you with cerebral palsy until you start walking, so we didn’t know exactly what it was until then,” she said.

Then came the surgeries. One to lengthen his abductor muscles, one to lengthen his hamstring, one to put rods in to slow the growth of one leg to allow the other to catch up. In between the surgeries, he did physical therapy, he wore serial casts to help straighten his legs, he wore braces to allow him to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. And: he watched his sister run, and dreamed about following her. After graduating from middle school, he did exactly that when he enrolled at Long Beach Poly High School.

Gabe and Poly coach Crystal Irving after he won the Arcadia 400 this year. Photo by John Napalan

In the Blocks

The Poly track and field program is not a normal high school track and field program.

The Jackrabbits–nicknamed the “Trackrabbits” by fans–have an international following. When they travel to the Penn Relays, there are track fans in Philadelphia buying bootleg green and gold Poly gear to wear, since Poly is the only American high school to beat the star squads from Jamaica at the prestigious event.

Poly has produced Olympians, more CIF Southern Section and CIF State champions than any other high school, and has won 37 sectional and 25 state championships, far outpacing any other program in California.

So when Gabe told Euna and Poly coach Crystal Irving that he wanted to run track at Poly, it meant a little more than just saying he was trying out for the local high school team. 

“He told me, ‘Mom, I’m going to run track at Poly,’ and I was like ‘Okay,’ not knowing that he was really gonna run track at Poly,” said Euna. “Then I saw other kids with disabilities at the State meet and realized it was definitely doable for him. He just fell in love with it, and they fell in love with Gabe.”

Euna became a volunteer with the Poly track program during her daughter’s time there but stayed on after she graduated, and she and Irving were close. The longtime Poly coach watched Gabe grow up with the other “track” kids, younger siblings of the nearly 200 athletes in the school’s program.

“There was a whole group of track babies who grew up together, my daughter is one year younger than him and they all grew up together playing in the dirt, playing video games, not even watching the track meets, just playing with each other,” said Irving.

Although she was a championship athlete herself at Poly and in college at UNLV, and although she’s made history as a Black woman winning state championships as a coach in California, Irving has always been about more than just trophies. A maternal figure to a lot of athletes in the Poly program, she jumped at the chance to include Gabe, adding para-ambulatory races to the Trackrabbit Invitational that Poly hosts and researching what meets Gabe would be able to compete in.

“Our world needs more than athletes,” she said. “It’s about building character and building people, because these are the next people who are going out into our community. I teach PE at Poly as well and I always tell my students, it’s not about being the top person or the top athlete, it’s about bettering yourself.”

Before he could get on the track there was one more surgery his freshman year, the biggest one yet, with doctors removing a piece of Gabe’s femur and reconstructing his thighs so that his legs were the same length. There were months of physical therapy after that as he re-learned to stand, and walk, and eventually run.

“It’s amazing to see him run after that,” said Euna. “Amazing.”

Ari, Gabe, and Euna in 2014. Photo by Thomas Cordova

The Race

Assimilating students and athletes with disabilities into mainstream school culture can be challenging. It’s something that the Long Beach Unified School District’s executive staff thinks about often, and has devoted plenty of big thinkers to. At Long Beach Poly, it happened as smoothly and naturally as a gifted sprinter leaning into the curve. Gabe was a full member of the Poly team from the first workout he attended.

“I’m just one of the people on the team,” said Gabe with a smile. “When I was struggling with my rehab, my teammates pushed me because they wanted me to be better. They always cheer for me during my races, when I’m doing well they tell me that I’m doing a good job.”

Gabe is a full participant in the team’s practices, travel, and routines at big meets. Over the last four years he’s come out of his shell socially, from a quiet kid who was always following his sister around, to a senior leader on a team that’s currently ranked No. 1 in the State. Teammates post on social media when he wins, calling him Gabe the Great or predicting even bigger successes to come. Irving said Gabe is not only a member of the team, he’s a big part of its emotional core.

“He inspires our other athletes, because everyone knows what he’s been through, but he comes every day, he’s on time every day, and no matter what the workout is he steps to the line,” she said. “So when people see him do it, they know that they can do it too.”

For those who knew Gabe when he was younger, staring up at his sister, it’s a trip to see him do her same pre-race routine before every race, and as he gets into the blocks. He said it’s his way of channeling her and her success before the gun goes off.

What he’s doing is working. Gabe won the 100 para-ambulatory race at Arcadia his sophomore year and again last year, before claiming the 400 title this year. He plans to run the 100, 200, and 400 at the CIF State meet this year, having qualified for all three by running them at invitational events already this season.

Gabe wearing his 2023 Arcadia hardware. Photo by Mike Guardabascio

On the Podium

As a teenager with cerebral palsy, Gabe is carrying a lot on his shoulders. He’s making history as the first champion para-ambulatory athlete at one of the nation’s most historic high school track and field schools. He’s changed the culture at Poly, where Irving is now actively recruiting disabled students to join the team’s ranks next season. He makes his mom emotional every time he steps on the oval.

There’s also the weight of the expectations he’s put on himself: to follow his sister and bring home a state title next month.

“I’m going to carry on the family legacy,” he said.

For all he’s been through in his life, Gabe has had the fierce love of strong women behind him to help him overcome his challenges. And just like his coach and his sister, Gabe’s mother said that what he’s accomplished to this point is more important to her than what he does at the State meet.

“He’s a kid like any other kid, he’s on the team like anyone else on the team. That’s amazing,” said Euna. “I love watching him just as much as I enjoyed watching my daughter. I’m praying just as hard when he runs, I’m screaming just as loud. And I cannot wait to see him at State, no matter what happens there. It gives me goosebumps and butterflies just thinking about it.”

His coach said that his big sister’s inspiration to Gabe is obvious and omnipresent.

“His journey has been amazing– relearning how to walk, relearning how to run, how to sprint,” she said. “That inspiration of his sister, if he didn’t have that, I don’t know if he would have been able to make it.”

For her part, Ari doesn’t want to hear any of it.

“I’ve told Gabe that a lot of the reason that I did what I did was because I knew he was watching,” she said. “He taught me that a lot of life is getting things done whether you feel like it or not. He never made any excuses, and I’m the excuse queen, so he taught me to get out of that. He inspired me more than I could ever inspire him. It means a lot to me to know that I had that kind of impact on him, but this is about him being great. He’s not chasing somebody else, he’s the first ‘him.’ He has a chance to be our school’s first para state champion and when you do that they don’t say para state champion–they say state champion. And he’s a champion no matter what.”

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.