Sunday, May 05, 2002

Challenged athletes embrace challenge

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Six-year-old Christopher Schade walked to his first swimming competition and took a major spill. Christopher was born with a neural tube defect that makes walking smoothly difficult. But he swam his race.

        When he fell, his mother, Dory Schade of Hamilton, grabbed his hand. Together, they walked toward the Sycamore High School pool.

        Along with about 20 other swimmers, the blond boy competed in the 19th annual Adapted Sports Festival, formerly known as Cincinnati's Wheelchair Games.

        “I'm pumped!” Christopher exclaimed after placing fourth in one of the first meets of the day.

        Quadriplegics, paraplegics, and those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other physical and cognitive disabilities will continue competing today in the Adapted Sports Festival's track and field events.

        They ranged in age and ability and hailed from six states. But all were buoyant about having another opportunity to compete, build friendships and increase their mental and physical strength.

        The event also allowed the hard-core athletes to qualify for national competition. Aimee Bruder, 27, formerly of Lawrenceburg, Ind., swam 3:19.57 in the 100-yard medley, qualifying for a national competition in Seattle.

        “I'm going to nationals!” she screamed as she finished her race. Ms. Bruder, who moved two months ago to Birmingham, Ala., was born with cerebral palsy.

        She has been swimming competitively since she attended East Central High School in Dearborn County.

        At Saturday's race, she got a kick out of seeing the young children compete. Many of them needed their parents' help to get in and out of the pool.

        “Life is full of challenges. You just adapt,” Ms. Bruder said.

        “We need kids at a young age to realize that things are possible. They'll try anything. They don't think of themselves as being a disabled person. They need to realize that their dreams can come true.”

        Jill Farmer of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission has organized the event for four consecutive summers. She is touched whenever she sees a disabled child try a new sport.

        She mentioned Billy Smith, 6, of Blanchester, who became wheelchair-bound last fall because of a spinal cord injury. Today, he will compete in the softball- and discus-throwing competitions.

        “He's just a demon on wheels. He's got the wheelchair down,” Ms. Farmer said. “They need to have the same opportunities to compete.”

        Mrs. Schade sat in the bleachers and cheered as Christopher swam to the finish line. When the boy sat next to her, dripping wet and with his lips shivering, she said that she never thought of keeping him from competition when he fell.


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