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A lesson in track and field from a wheelchair racer

Kids learn from an Olympic and Paralympic medalist about the joy of playing community sports with a disability.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

TAMPA -- Winning a race isn't the main goal for six-time Olympic and Paralympic medalist Scot Hollonbeck.

"It's about having fun and giving your best," Hollonbeck told a group of children during a track and field clinic Saturday at the All Peoples Life Center.

About 28 kids attended the three-hour clinic. Some came from as far away as Bradenton, Zephyrhills and Lake Mary.

The clinic marks the beginning of BlazeSports Club of Tampa Bay's track and field season, which is scheduled through the end of June. The charter club works in partnership with the Hillsborough County parks and recreation department to bring community sports and other physical activity programs to disabled youths.

The kids watched with bright eyes as Hollonbeck, 33, talked about his Olympic career.

As a young boy in Rochelle, Ill., he swam every morning and had track practice every night. But when he was 14, he was hit by a drunken driver while riding his bike. The impact broke his back and severed his spinal cord.

"One of the interesting things about disabilities is none of us signed up for it," Hollonbeck told the kids, some as young as 6. "We choose what we do with them. I chose to have fun with mine."

He won gold and silver medals as a wheelchair racer in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He has held the U.S. record at the 800-meter, 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter distances.

"Nine times out of 10, I don't win," Hollonbeck said. "But it's not about that. It's about giving your best."

This is the second time Randy and Pam Chiavaroli of Hudson have enrolled their son, Joey, 7, in the BlazeSports program. He was in the basketball program last fall and has raced in the Dixie Wheelchair Games in Warm Springs, Ga.

"It's been the best thing for him," Pam Chiavaroli said. "He has excelled in everything and he gets to be with kids like him."

After demonstrating how his racing wheelchair worked, Hollonbeck led the kids outside for warm-ups.

Scarlett Lawhorn ran alongside her daughter, Scarlett Jr., 6, as she wheeled down the center's nature trail.

"Mommy, my arms are getting tired," said the girl, who was born with spina bifida.

"Come on, you can do it. Push," urged her mother.

Lauren Rosen, a physical therapist and program coordinator for the Motion Analysis Center at Tampa Children's Hospital, stressed the importance of exercise for kids with disabilities.

"We can do a lot as therapists, but this is fun," said Rosen, who is on the BlazeSports committee. "This is real life and they get to meet other kids," she said.

-- For more information, contact Andy Chasanoff at (813) 744-5309.

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